Dateine- In 1984 Lawrence Roman’s play Alone Together opened on Broadway. It introduced audiences to a middle-aged California couple, George and Helene Butler, whose three adult sons kept returning to the nest. Roman was successful, busily writing for stage, screen and television. It was 17 years later in 2001 when he revisited the empty nest theme in Alone Together Again, but this time with a twist. Instead of the three adult sons returning to the nest, George and Helena’s (for some reason her name was changed with a different ending vowel in the second play) home is invaded by their parents. Gene Raye Price of One Thirty Productions directs this cute comedy, which opened Wednesday at The Bath House Cultural Center.
We meet Helena (Mary Margaret Pyeatt) in the living room as she wraps a phone conversation about the possibility of a one-woman show at The Winston Gallery. Excited about reviving her career as an artist, she is sharing the news with George (Randy Pearlman). He is happy for her and they have a drink to celebrate that news and their glee over the sons having finally left the house. Helena is looking forward to working in her studio without the constant interruptions and distractions that happen when the house is full.
Helene teases George into that seemingly harmless marital gameplay arena of “tell-me-what-annoys-you-about-me-it’s-okay.” She professes sincerity as she asks the question while George grand jetés around it for as long as he can. Just as they edge closer to danger, the doorbell rings. It is Helena’s father, Frank (Cliff Stephens) whom they call Pop. He announces that he and Helena’s mother Ruth (Mary Lang) are having a temporary trial separation. Within a few days of his arrival, George’s mother Grace (Allyn Carrell) arrives for a temporary stay while her house is being fumigated. Ruth keeps calling and dropping by either to check on Pop or to drop off something he will need, such as medication. She finally decides to move in because it simplifies things and makes it easier for her to keep track of Pop. By the end of Act I, the Butler house is again filled and bursting with interruptions and distractions.
In the first act, Pyeatt and Pearlman play the husband and wife as five people minus three, acknowledging a space between the characters that they have filled over the years with the unsaid. Having parents around as they pick their way through how to be without children renders them unable to maintain the façade they constructed. It is in the second act where fractures widen and the unsaid spills forth. Act II is the most engaging because it is the most revealing. Pyeatt and Pearlman snark and spit their way into intimacy. Price’s staging has almost continual movement, which keeps the energy high and feeds the tension sneaking upward between George and Helena.
Each of the parents is hiding, masking their real problem which is aging. Pop, the oldest at almost 80, is having the hardest time. He has developed an obsession with technology, thinking that robotics will help him avoid obsolescence. Ironically father and daughter are each battling the fear of obsolescence, hers that her window of opportunity as a visual artist has closed.
Just as George and Helena have spent a lot of time talking at each other without really saying anything, the parental characters have been written in a way that is very transparent and without mystery. Parallel exercises in avoiding issues. During “the great reveal” of the second act, Pyeatt finds the heat of Helena and it is in that scene with George that their best moments happen.
Stephens and Lang are a hoot though they are not onstage together that often. Carrell is so winning and natural as Grace that it is as if she just popped in from the lobby to chat with these nice people onstage.
Alone Together Again is light comedy but it is not without substance. Price and the actors have actually elevated Roman’s script.