nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 28, 2007
Martin Casella's play Scituate begins right after a man dies of AIDS. Robbie was in his late 30s, and his partner of three years, Stewart, was by his side when he died. When we first meet Stewart, he's just returning from that final afternoon in the hospital. His friends Jayce and Pokie help him into bed, give him shoulders to cry on and ears to listen with. He asks them to stay the night in his room, and they do.
Trouble is, when morning comes, Jayce and Pokie can't get Stewart to get out of bed. His therapist, Peach Pasling, makes a housecall, but to no avail. His friends Greeber and Sasha Steinway try to talk him up, but he resists. His parents arrive to take him to Robbie's funeral...and still no deal. Stewart won't leave the bedroom: he's convinced that he saw Robbie the night he died, and furthermore that Robbie is coming back again.
Casella's tender, emotional play charts Stewart's progress over the next month. With his parents and these close friends, he moves through a difficult grieving process, one that's punctuated by apparently supernatural occurrences like Robbie's appearance to Stewart that first night. The playwright gives these paranormal events equal weight with the more "normal" ones in this play, which makes Scituate feel a bit off-kilter: are these things really happening, or are they just metaphors for Stewart's release of/from his late lover?
I'm not sure that I finally know the answer to that question. What I do know is that Stewart's emotional journey rings piercingly true, and anyone who's lost a loved one—and I was just about to add "before his or her time," but I realized that that's redundant—will find much resonance here. Casella reminds us that death is a tragedy most of all for those left behind; and that even though moving on seems impossible, it's finally all that is possible.
Chad Hoeppner is outstanding as Stewart, creating a fully-realized character in this young man whose guilt and relief and fear have combined to render him nearly immobile. His Stewart never wallows and he always feels so vitally alive that his inability to rejoin the world is especially painful and moving.
Laurence Lau offers one of the evening's other strong performances, as Robbie and Stewart's best friend Greeber. (A scene in which Stewart tells him that all his gay friends have been lusting after him is particularly funny and touching.) Damian Buzzerio and Holly Barron are very effective as Stewart's parents; I loved the chemistry that they share with Hoeppner, creating a convincingly real and loving family.
David Hilder's staging is excellent, providing brisk transitions between the play's nine scenes, which all take place over the course of a month (with a couple of flashbacks) in Stewart's room. The set by Lauren Helpern is appropriate and charming, and the sound design by Bart Fasbender is invaluable.
One of the interesting things about Casella's script is that, although the central romantic relationship in it is between two men, this is not even remotely a "gay play"—in fact I was struck that Casella chose to have no other gay characters in the story; all of Robbie and Stewart's close friends seem to be straight couples. The play is named after a real oceanside town in Massachusetts (where it takes place); I'm not finally sure why Casella decided to use this for his title. (And why all the quirky names, like Pokie and Peach and Greeber?) All in all, this is an effective if sometimes inconsistent drama about love and loss, which are subjects that Casella explores with maturity and insight.