Dolores and North of Providence
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 30, 2011
Teatro La Tea and Clout in the Mug Productions are presenting a double bill of plays by Edward Allan Baker that deliver not so much a clout in the mug as a wallop in the gut. These are intense, deeply felt stories and they're performed here, under the fine direction of Alberto Bonilla, with raw, wrenching abandon.
The first piece, Dolores, takes place in the modest Providence, Rhode Island home of Sandra, who is relaxing on her one day off during the week (Sunday; her husband has taken the children over to his mother's and so she has the house to herself for a few hours). Suddenly, she's interrupted by the arrival of her sister, Dolores. Dolores is in a panic because, she says, her husband is going to kill her. It turns out that Dolores has had a pattern of abusive relationships, and while her family seems to mostly have reached the end of their rope trying to help her, Sandra is able to find a new wave of compassion for her troubled sister.
I moderated a talkback following the performance and was privileged to chat with the playwright about this piece. Baker told us that his mother was a victim of spousal abuse, and he explained that he wrote Dolores to explore what he (or anyone) might do if his own sister had been in such a situation. I can't find a better way to summarize the impact of this work: Baker puts us right in the middle of Dolores's violently troubled relationships with men and family members, and while he doesn't offer easy promises of resolution or escape, he reminds us that reaching out to others is the only way any of us can hope to improve our world. Sat Charn Fox (Dolores) and Rachel Cornish (Sandra) deliver strong performances as the sisters, creating two fully dimensional women who have built upon a shared history of dysfunction to shape their own lives in very different fashion.
North of Providence follows Dolores. It also takes place in Providence, this time in a rundown house currently occupied by Bobby, a 30-ish ne'er-do-well who for years has been camping out in his drunken father's room while his nearly-fed-up mom sleeps in another bedroom. Bobby's dad is now dying (of liver disease) and his sister, Carol, has been sent to find Bobby so that he can see their father before he passes away. Carol's arrival precipitates a confrontation between the siblings in which a long-unspoken secret is finally revealed. As in Dolores, Baker is showing us that genuine engagement, understanding, and acceptance are necessary to push aside the demons that have been holding us back in our lives.
John Golaszewski, co-founder of Clout in the Mug Productions, offers a compelling performance as Bobby, making him someone to root for despite his having seemingly surrendered completely to drink and despair. Rebecca Nyahay is his match as his older sister Carol, finding the vulnerability and strength of this woman who is a mass of contradictions yet oddly gallant: at once complicated and simple, naive and street smart.
Bonilla's production of both pieces is exemplary, shrewdly keeping the action close to the audience and, with set designer Rachel Kenner, creating a stiflingly cluttered, messy environment for the plays. He's made the interesting choice to have the action of both plays occur at the same time, on Valentine's Day morning, 1984. This reminds us that even when we ourselves aren't facing down issues that are literally life-or-death, someone, somewhere is. That's perhaps the most important takeaway from this presentation of these two intense, incisive, and sometimes cathartic works.