nytheatre.com review by Amy Lee Pearsall
April 21, 2011
Sometimes the one who got away is the girl who never went anywhere at all, or so it goes in Pacific Resident Theatre’s production of Vince Melocchi’s Julia at 59E59 Theatres. It’s a quiet story about a man who returns to his hometown after fifty years of self-imposed exile to make amends to an old sweetheart. Of course, people and places have changed since he was last around and things don’t go quite as planned.
Lou Perino (Richard Fancy) pulls into town on the eve a wrecking ball is set to tear through the shop where he used to work the candy counter with Julia, the girl he loved. Stopping in at what used to be the old coffee shop for a bite to eat, he instead finds an undercover gambling establishment now run by Julia’s son Steve (Keith Stevenson). Frank (Haskell Vaughn Anderson III), once a coworker of Lou’s, comes in to place some numbers and happily reunites with his long absent friend. Upon discovering the identity of Lou, Steve is determined to protect his mother from the trauma that seeing Lou might generate. Lou is in poor health, however, and makes a dramatic plea to see the girl who was once his best friend so that he may ask for her forgiveness. What Lou does not count on is that Julia might have forgotten the wrong—and him—entirely.
In flashback, we meet younger versions of Julia and Lou (Marley McClean and Justin Preston). A tender rooftop scene that could have easily been a heart-rending declaration of love from Lou before being deployed to Korea instead twists into an act of major betrayal—enough of one that, rather return to Pennsylvania to face her after the war, Lou relocates to Detroit. McClean and Preston positively crackle with chemistry for the one scene they have in the play, and Preston along with Fancy seamlessly create a believable portrait of a man at odds with himself even as he battles the ravages of age.
When we finally meet the older Julia (Roses Prichard), there is little hint of McClean’s interpretation of her younger self beyond a scant trace of a second-generation Irish accent, but that is more a comment on Prichard’s heartbreakingly on-point performance of a woman in the throes of Alzheimer’s than it is a criticism. Yes, Steve concedes and allows Lou to see Julia, but it is a bittersweet reunion. Julia doesn’t know him; she doesn’t even recognize her own son. Beyond Lou and Julia sharing a favorite snack from the old candy counter days and a first and final dance between our star-crossed lovers, communion is never achieved.
Director Guillermo Cienfuegos elicits strong performances across the board from the cast, which is a credit as Melocchi’s script—like Julia—doesn’t really go anywhere. If the piece were being workshopped, I might suggest that more be done with the idea of the wrecking ball introduced at the top of the show. The one journey here belongs to Lou, though the characters of Steve and Frank also seemed to bloom a bit once in the company of Julia in the second act.
The greatest sense of movement in the play takes place during a massive scene change at intermission. Set designer Norman Scott goes for naturalism, creating back flats that flip over and whisk us from a dilapidated coffee shop to a worse-for-wear nursing home. The set crew even installed a hospital curtain on a rail during the break and did a full swap of furniture. While impressive, I did wonder if a more understated approach might have better served the piece.
Lighting designer William Wilday’s lights manage to effectively span the three worlds of nursing home, coffee shop, and rooftop. Cienfuegos and actor Stevenson do a lovely job with sound, employing mournful train whistles, the racket of an early 1950’s party, music from the time period and—my favorite—“Eye of the Tiger” as the ring tone for Steve’s perpetually on-call cell phone.
By story’s end, it is clear the only one who can grant Lou forgiveness for his past actions is himself. The message is certainly one that the audience can relate to and the actors do a fine job. Regrettably, the story in its current incarnation is as easily forgotten as the treasured memories that Julia herself has lost.