Castalia Repertory Co., newly minted from the remains of last season's Shades of Grey Productions, is devoted to performing works of Classic American Theatre. It was clear from this first production that they could successfully dedicate themselves to any kind of drama.
The three plays in question -- William Inge's "The Rainy Afternoon" and "Bus Riley's Back in Town" and Tennessee Williams's "Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen" -- reacted with different success to the sudden burst of stage light into their respective tombs. In Inge's case, they came to vigorous life. In Williams's -- and no fault lies with Castalia here, except choosing the script -- the play should perhaps have been left to molder in the grave. (Then again, an aspiring playwright can probably learn more from Williams's failures than Neil Simon's greatest successes.)
"The Rainy Afternoon" tells of two girls playing with their dollies in the barn when a young boy of their acquaintance comes by on his bike. One of the girls decides she wants to play at grownups (while the other girl plays Baby), and takes the lad up to the hayloft. Carleigh Welsh's expression at the end, left alone by her friend's precocious sexuality, epitomized the loss of innocence. Jennifer Tulchin captured the sexually forward young lass's eagerness and manipulativeness, and Mark Ellmore portrayed well the ambivalence of the young boy not too eager to grow up that afternoon.
"Bus Riley" tells of a young Romeo's return to his hometown, on Navy leave. He runs into his ex in the hotel bar. The play -- a perfect actors' exercise -- poses the question of whether they will get back together, and on what terms. In the discussion, more and more unpleasant facts surface about how they came to part (her father got her an abortion) and what Bus has become like after they split up (a loveless cocksman). They leave together, but only to shack up with a bottle in a motel across the town line.
This is a play that would be merciless on actors with less commitment to their parts. Bursts of rapid-fire exposition crop up like machine-gun barrages and could tempt an audience to laughter. Fortunately, Len Duckman (Bus) and Carleigh Welsh (Jackie) never let their eyes wander from their reluctant dance of lost love and posited lust. The observers, in varying degrees of obliviousness to what was going on in front of them, were aptly played by Nick Rempel (the bartender), Mark Ellmore (a salesman), Kitty Coyne, and Paul Tavianini.
"Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen" is a dialog of sorts between a woman and a man, the latter waking up from a wicked drunk, in which he blacked out and spent his unemployment check -- and did who knows what besides ("People do terrible things to a person when he's unconscious in this city"). The play comes across as a coded dialog between a woman who wants a "normal" relationship and a closet homosexual who hides his secret in alcoholic blackouts. (Just one opinion.) Tulchin and Tavianini did what they could, at least showing the further extent of their acting ranges. (As did all the actors who played multiple roles.)
Costumes (Amela Baksic), sets (Sean Motley), and lighting (Mathew J. Williams) throughout were superbly suggestive of period and place. Notable among the last were the bars of rainbow light through shuttered Leicos that lit the gloomy barn and the beam of airshaft sunlight in the squalid room of the Williams lovers.
This was theatre of the highest caliber. Castalia must be watched, whatever name they use.
Copyright 1996 John Chatterton
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