PHOTO: Mo O’Rourke (Luce) and Stephanie Tomiko (Addie). Photo by Orion Stekoll.
REVIEW • BY STEVE LAROCQUE
Remember the bear (or elephant, if you prefer) in the room – the one that no one wants to talk about?
In The Long Way Around, the Women’s Voice Theatre Festival premiere playing at Silver Spring’s Highwood Theatre through October 25, there is a Bear, which hovers relentlessly over the proceedings, reappears in multiple guises, and only goes away (rather abruptly) at the very end. It has to do with the last letter of the LGBTQ acronym: Q, for “questioning.”
We are in Greenville, a small town outside of Chicago where anyone who doesn’t make a mighty effort to leave is likely to end up in mediocre, gossipy, small-town perpetuity. Promising artist Luce (Moe O’Rourke) is preparing for her wedding to math teacher Nathan (Sam Taylor), with aspiring journalist Addie (Stephanie Tomiko) as her maid of honor and Luce’s friends Joan (Alison Talvacchio) and Heather (Megan Konyndyk) as bridesmaids.
Mo O’Rourke (Luce) and Sam Taylor (Nathan). Photo by Orion Stekoll.
Addie, who has every intention of leaving Greenville for Chicago and a big-city career, breaks off her rocky relationship with long-time boyfriend Bill (Dylan Hares), who also happens to be Nathan’s best man, just before Luce’s wedding. Then, as the young women go through the ritual of trying on wedding finery – here comes the Bear – Addie asks Luce: was there something going on between us in high school? Luce rejects the idea that they were anything more than friends, but Addie persists, recalling a card game that they used to play which brought them within a hair’s breadth of physical intimacy. She challenges Luce to deny that there was something there; Luce admits that she can’t.
But the wedding is on: Luce and Nathan exchange vows (though not without Luce and Addie exchanging significant glances when the minister asks if anyone objects to the marriage); at the reception, everyone mugs joyously for the camera; Luce and Nathan have a tentative but brave wedding night; and Addie heads off for Chicago to pursue free-lance journalism and an openly lesbian lifestyle.
Dylan Hares (Bill) and Stephanie Tomiko (Addie). Photo by Orion Stekoll.
Luce, now married, never seems to get the hang of it. Husband Nathan turns out to be a paragon of stability and earnest effort, eager to start a family, but Luce can’t follow suit. She goes through one negative pregnancy test after another (always with witnesses conveniently at hand to confirm the results), only to be discovered using birth control by friends Joan and Heather. Not long afterwards, Bill challenges Luce with the notion that she loves Addie, and vice versa; the Bear is still in the room.
Luce heads off to Chicago for a soul-baring heart-to-heart with Addie, but Addie is having none of it: she is a lesbian in Chicago, Luce is married, and that is that. But Luce persists, insisting that they play the old card game again. They do; Luce plants a passionate kiss on Addie, then leaves abruptly. Addie, alone, ends the story with a poetic monologue that wraps up the loose ends.
All in all, a night of solid theater, not as risqué as might have been feared, but thoughtful and effective. The acting is convincing. Stephanie Tomiko, as Addie, is exceptional; nobody disappoints. Director Melissa Robinson sets a steady pace, and her actors stick to it. The diminutive stage, wide but shallow, is configured effectively as a right/left unit, sparely set to accommodate the relentless scene changes; projections do a nice job of reminding us where we are. The music is appropriate and evocative.
Alison Talvacchio (Joan) and Megan E. Konyndyk (Heather). Photo by Orion Stekoll.
There’s good news here: good live theater can be found within walking distance of Takoma Park – about a 35-minute jaunt, all told. Starting, as always, from the Takoma Metro station, walk up Eastern/Takoma Avenue toward Silver Spring; turn left onto Fenton and continue past the MD 410 intersection; at Silver Spring Avenue, turn left onto and walk three-fourths of a block to the theater, which is just next to Roadhouse Oldies. Bus riders: take RideOn 16 or 17 (Silver Spring) or Metrobus F4 (Silver Spring Station); all will let you off at the intersection of Silver Spring and Fenton.
More good news: the Highwood Theatre is drawing young audiences. The Long Way Around speaks to the aspirations, fears, passions, and contradictions of the generation that is coming of age, and people of that age are coming to see it. (A lot of theaters would like to figure out how to accomplish this on a consistent basis.) Highwood Theatre is for real, and it deserves a place on the list of destinations for Takoma Park residents who consider themselves serious about live theater.
The Long Way Around by Julia Starr. Director: Melissa Robinson; Stage Manager: Kelsey Murphy; Costume Design: Tip Letsche & Melissa Robinson; Set Design: Phoenix Ganz-Ratzat; Lighting Design: Toly Yarup; Sound Design: Orion Stekoll; Technical Director: Toly Yarup
Through Sun, Oct 25. Fri-Sat: 7:30 pm; Sun: 2 pm. At the Highwood Theatre, 914 Silver Spring Ave., Suite 102, Silver Spring. Tickets: $22-$25; buy online at www.thehighwoodtheatre.org or call (301) 587-0697.