Dramatic Repertory Company continues to produce thought provoking theater with the dark comedy, Life During Wartime, starring a stellar cast led by Matt Delamater and Christine Penney.
Written by Keith Reddin, this sitcom-esq dramedy opens with Tommy (Delamater) being initiated into the hard sell tactics of a home-security company by his boss Heinrich (Brian Chamberlain). On his first assignment, Tommy meets Gale (Penney), with whom he falls in love. Tommy learns that the home-security company is involved in a scam whereby they burglarize the homes in which the system has been installed. After Tommy decides to propose to Gale, her house is broken into and tragedy strikes. Heinrich refuses to accept responsibility for the break-in, saying that Tommy was naive to believe in the possibility of finding happiness in such a dangerous world. Present throughout the play is the spirit of John Calvin (Peter Brown), the sixteenth-century religious leader whose belief in Original Sin threads the play with the same feeling of hopelessness and futility that Tommy experiences. The play continues by exploring Tommy's journey to believe in the possibility of honestly and lovingly living in the modern world despite the hardships one inevitably faces.
Matt Delamater (Tommy) provides super glue acting to keep his broken character together. Delamater gives a multi-layered performance that is genuine and honest, providing a strong lead, emotionally and physically, for the rest of the cast to create with.
Christine Penney (Gale) is, in a word, perfect. Penney embodies the character, her acting choices natural and confident. A Seacoast favorite, Penney is a very welcomed addition to the Portland theater scene.
Delamater and Penney create magic in their relationship and, in the words of Gale, give their scenes a "Captain Stiffy".
Brian Chamberlain (Heinrich) masterfully walks a thin line between character and caricature (the accent), keeping us frighteningly amused. Chamberlain is a strong stage presence and a giving actor to his fellow cast members. His physicality, eye contact and unspoken dialogue is wonderful to experience.
Peter Brown (John Calvin, Fielding and other roles) is subtlety hilarious, making the most of a word, phrase, look or pause. Brown's gun wielding character of Fielding is a show highlight.
There is no doubt that ageless scene stealer Andrew Sawyer (Howard and other roles) is an audience favorite. His Howard character monologue is fun-tastic.
Elizabeth Lardie (Sally, Mrs. Fielding) made the most of a poorly written Sally and gives comedic support to Brown as Mrs. Fielding.
Casey Turner (Megan) is on stage only a few moments but beautifully plays an important role in the conclusion of the play. There is a genuine warmth and likeability in Turner and one wishes she was on stage longer.
Director and Artistic Director, Keith Powell Beyland, provides a strong foundation of blocking and character development for his actors to create with, their arc clearly defined. Beyland allows his actors to take their silent moments without affecting the pace of the play. His clever and well executed set changes are appreciated.
Set design by Beyland is simplistic and workable. Lighting design by Michaela Wirth is limited by the venue instruments provided. However, the focus never quite lights the actors faces, with the hotspot being too low. A balcony scene performed by Brown lights the lower wall rather than his face. An uncredited costume design (most likely from the cast's closets) works well. I look forward to the technical aspects of DRC's future shows to match the high standard of quality he gets out of his actors.
Life During Wartime is Dramatic Repertory Company's fifth show and one that should not be missed. I applaud Beyland for stepping outside the commercial box of theater and be willing to risk financial stability with his commitment to produce new and overlooked works. Next time you're deciding between an old favorite you've seen too many times before or a DRC production, go with DRC- you won't be disappointed and they deserve your support.
Life During Wartime plays through June 10 at the Studio Theatre at Portland Stage, 25A Forest Avenue, Portland, ME. For tickets and more information call (207) 233-3600 or go to www.dramaticrep.org.