Los Alamos playwright Robert F. Benjamin’s newest play Not Quite Right, co-written with Elaine Jarvik, opened Friday at Teatro Paraguqas in Santa Fe In spite of a snowstorm.
Those who braved the weather were treated to the kind of dramedy that Benjamin showed us in Salt and Pepper. The combination of laughter and tears inherent in the mix keeps the audience emotionally on edge and shows the characters in different lights.
As in Salt and Pepper, the focus is on couples. In this case, two couples in late middle age and one in their 30s. Oh, I should mention, all the scenes take place at 3 a.m. on two different nights less than a year apart.
Benjamin describes the play as “an upbeat comedic family drama.” Not Quite Right places couples in a situation where they are cranky and vulnerable, to cope with the question, “what’s enough?” Let’s just say that no one in the play agrees about it.
Beth Kennedy Jones directs the production for a skilled company of actors that includes include Kat Sawyer, Steven Oakey, Stephanie Dees, Cindy Coulter, R.J. Laino, and Alex Thorne, all of whom do a fine job.
The play opens when good-hearted funny man Marty (Steven Oakey) keeps his wife Carol (Kat Sawyer) awake to admire a bowl he’s just taken from the kiln. She does not admire it, which is clear although she doesn’t say so.
Marty is the sort of guy who takes skydiving lessons without informing his wife and brings a woman friend by his studio to see his pots while his wife is out. We all know guys like Marty, charming but clueless.
Marty has been laid off at age 58 and is very vulnerable to criticism about his worth. His more serious-minded wife, Carol, doesn’t get that she is (usually) unintentionally belittling Marty, just as he is self-absorbed and inconsiderate—keeping her up late when she has an early meeting.
The expectations the two have of life and their relationship aren’t meshing.
Meanwhile, a second couple, this one in their 30s, are on their ninth hour of a dance marathon. The couple is arguing about whether Andrew (Alex Thorne) should go through with his vasectomy or the two should have the third child Andrew wants and Jessica (Stephanie Dees) does not.
Andrew is warm-hearted and a bit dreamy. Jessica is idealistic and has a “get things done” personality. It will turn out later that Jessica is the daughter of Marty and Carol. Jessica seems to be a person a lot like her mother who married someone like her father in many ways. However, she didn’t have to cope with the fallout of her dad’s behavior. As Andrew’s wife, she does.
Benjamin said in a recent interview that the play is about “dueling expectations” and discovering how much is enough. For me, the play was about the inability of people to see and appreciate loved ones on their own terms and the inability to accept them for who they are.
This becomes clear in the second act, when we meet our third couple. Once again it’s 3 a.m. and Tom and Sally are awaiting their daughter-in-law’s parents who have yet to show up for a visit from a faraway city.
You guessed it. Tom and Sally are Andrew’s parents and the people they are waiting for are Carol and Marty.
Tom is disillusioned, cynical and grumpy. He’s also a realist who sees a problem and wants to solve it, especially if the problem is one someone he loves is struggling with. Sally is a pleaser who wants to make everyone happy, but is sometimes willing to overlook the truth in order to maintain peace.
Benjamin and Jarvik have created fully rounded characters that are relatable and funny, but not ridiculous stereotypes. These characters will remind you of someone you know, I guarantee it, and you’ll feel like you know these six people from somewhere—maybe a party at 3 a.m.?
The cast is uniformly good, but I especially enjoyed the performances of Stephanie Dees (Jessica) and Kat Sawyer as Carol. Dees has perfect stage timing. Sawyer had a more difficult task in bringing the quiet Carol to life as a character and she does a wonderful job of it.
The play was ably directed by Beth Kennedy Jones who is clearly of professional caliber as a director. She has everyone just where they need to be, doing just what they should be doing. A shout-out is in order to sound designer and assistant director Alix Hudson as well.
I also have to mention the excellent costume design by Cheryl Odom. Each character has just the right outfit to show off his or her personality. Here’s an example: Marty’s t-shirt reads “no est mea culpa” or “it’s not my fault” if you’re Latin is rusty. This is a major statement about his worldview.
This is a fun evening with something meaty at its core. The snow is scheduled to end today or tomorrow, so get out and see it this weekend, or for the faint of heart, next week.
“Not Quite Right” continues through Sunday, March 8, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Teatro Paraguas Studio is at 3205 Calle Marie, Santa Fe. Tickets are $20 general admission, $18 seniors, $15 students and union members. Call 505.424.1601 or email email@example.com for reservations.