This month, Compass Rose founding artistic director Lucinda Merry-Browne offers an ambitious finish to the theater's third season, bringing to Annapolis a play that she also directs.
The show is Frank Anthony Polito's "Another Day on Willow Street," which received a New York City Fringe Festival workshop presentation in August 2007.
Merry-Browne welcomes the challenge, noting that "producing a new play is vital to the future of theater. New works are crucial for the theater, actors and audiences to experience."
Compass Rose chose "Another Day on Willow Street" because of its "unique structure and strong themes" in telling the intertwining story of two couples — one gay and one straight — living next to each other.
In a Brooklyn brownstone are Ian Brown, a workaholic Wall Street investment banker, and his wife, Stacey Gold, recently retired from a publishing career with a baby due in a month. In a next-door studio apartment are Paul Green, a lawyer who works in Boston to be near his terminally ill mother, and Mark Gray, a struggling actor waiting for his next role.
Ian and Paul are both busy in demanding, lucrative careers. Stacey, now financially dependent on her husband, regrets leaving her publishing career to become a stay-at-home mom. When she and Mark meet on a park bench, she tells her story and the two discover their shared dependency on their partners. Mark is also coping with an impending transition involving his relationship with Paul.
In this drama, relationships evolve through monologues, often in the form of phone calls. Sometimes monologues become paralleling duets, and occasionally quartets, with shared themes.
This very personal way of storytelling is reminiscent of Abi Morgan's "Splendour" — produced in Annapolis by the Colonial Players — in which dialogue was sometimes delivered by simultaneously speaking actors, one finishing another's sentence.
In Compass Rose's production, Merry-Browne smartly uses the theater space to create indoor and outdoor locations, along with a Boston setting on the upper level where Paul converses from work with Mark, below, in his apartment.
Merry-Browne is assisted in creating instant scene changes by Chris Timko, whose lighting design primarily spotlights actors — a minimalist technique that provides maximum impact.
Merry-Browne has assembled an excellent cast — led by Renata Plecha, who played Juliet's nurse earlier this season, as Stacey; and Ric Andersen, who was seen as Bob Ewell in "To Kill a Mockingbird" last season, as Ian.
We meet Stacey in conflict, reluctant to give up her exciting work for days walking on the promenade or at Starbuck's as she awaits her daughter's birth — usually without Ian. Stacey later conveys her resentment at Ian's inability to set aside time for promised excursions, and at his forgetting her 40th birthday. Her frustration with him is in sharp contrast to her instant affinity with Mark.
Andersen must bring human warmth to his portrayal of the affable workaholic Ian, who is driven to overcompensate by the memory of his deadbeat father. Andersen's somewhat rigid portrayal mostly succeeds.
This production is also graced by two phenomenal actors who came on board only a week before the show's opening — Jonathan Lee Taylor as Mark and Anthony Bosco as Paul.
Bosco delivers a many-layered portrait of Paul, conveying a deep filial concern for his dying mother that extends to his desire to marry Mark to please her. Bosco brings Paul's vitality, ambition, sensitivity, passion and anger to life.
Taylor is equally impressive as Mark, bringing natural warmth not only to exchanges with Paul, but also with Stacey, with whom he has an instant rapport. Mark struggles with revealing his homosexuality to his parents while wrestling with commitment to marry Paul. In both instances, Taylor invests intensity in lines that could seem cliched spoken by a less gifted actor.
Although Compass Rose should be applauded for mounting this premiere, there are some reservations about the work chosen, with its theme of characters in search of their identities at age 40 who are in constant self-absorption.
That reservation aside, the production of "Another Day on Willow Street" deserves strong support for its fine acting and thought-provoking elements.
The show continues Thursdays through Sundays through May 31 at the theater's 49 Spa Road location. Call 410-980-6662 or go to compassrosetheater.org for ticket information.