Theresa Rebeck's Sunday on the Rocks is billed as a comedy, but there's a lot of serious business going on. It's a dramatic convention for characters to get drunk so that truths and resentments can be revealed, but it isn't often done with as much charm and good spirits as happens on this Sunday in New England.
Scotch for breakfast allows Elly (Marci Brown) to reveal to her housemates Gayle (Lainie Marcus) and Jen (Rebecca Wyler) that she is pregnant, but it also allows these twentysomethings to air grievances about their fourth roommate Jessica (Adrienne Haan), and to tell each other bits and shocking pieces of their lives - things that have been previously withheld. Men and sex are Topic A, just like in real life, and it is mixed up with their jobs more often than a sexual harassment task force would like to hear. But the issue is how they feel about what happens to them, and how they handle the situations.
The play was originally produced in the early '90s and is set in that time period (there's a crack about "if Bush had won the election" that has new resonance) but it is still mostly contemporary. It fits into a certain category of play - bits of A Couple of White Chicks, a touch of Vanities, a soupcon of Crimes of the Heart, all overseen by Wendy Wasserstein - and the playwright understands that character resides in actions and how the revealing stories are related, and these three women drinking and talking are telling the audience far more than they would ever realize. And this characterization is strong enough, and the actresses good enough, to carry the play through its later, sometimes melodramatic, plot developments.
Brown made Elly's situation real, defiance mixed with neediness and confusion. Wyler was sure and self-possessed as she navigated what could have been a stereotypical role, the blonde who likes sex. Marcus's character was more reserved, but she was tremendously rewarding to watch as, for example, she watched Elly and Jessica argue about whether Elly should have the baby. Active (but not distractive) listening is hard to pull off, and Marcus's success at it made her character, and the play, a little richer. Haan gave an oddly bifurcated performance as Jessica, stiff and improbable in confrontational situations, but relaxed and open when her character showed unexpected compassion.
Director Christopher Zyck helped navigate the play through some of its shakier sections and can share in the success of the actors' ease with each other. The setting (uncredited) was believable as a living area/yard set shared by four women, and the costumes (uncredited) were just what these women would wear. The lighting (Jason Miesse) was outstanding - very effective in a couple of low-lit scenes, and a sunset reflecting on Brown's face accentuated her longing.
The play has its contrivances (an unconvincing knife attack, an
unsurprising black eye), but while short of completely satisfying,
it comes close enough to be quite worthwhile. There's a requisite
sing-a-long to "I Will Survive," but they might just
have well sung "We Are Family," which is what the play
is really about.
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Copyright 2001 Julie Halpern