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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

'This' on Vienna's stage is lots more than 'this'

 From left, Matthew Randall, Shannon Benton, Allen McRae, Rikki Howie Lacewell, and Kevin Walker with baby, and, mostly hidden in the background, pianist Scott Richards in This at Vienna Theatre Company/Photo by Peter Hill

The weakest link in this chain has got to be the title of this Northern Virginia premiere of This, yes, This, now playing at the Vienna Theatre Company

A dull, nondescript pronoun?

You got it (or this) right, Sister.  I mean we all have hang-ups, but This?

It is so much more than this.  It is a modern-day world, a contemporary drama/comedy as written by Melissa James Gibson with its ups and downs and how humans deal with adversity.  "I am sick of being human," says the show stealer, Alan (Matthew Randall). 

From left, Allen McRae, Shannon Benton, Matthew Randall, and Kevin Walker in This at Vienna Theatre Company/Photo by Peter Hill

It's today, after all, in New York City meaning f-bombs drop often in the second act, but not to worry.  At least, last Friday night's crowd didn't seem too bothered, and there was a goodly number of senior citizens present (and others) despite the ice and snow and low temperatures, but "f" is so common nowadays whatever do you think is its replacement?

Anyway, not to talk about that all night, but This where the stage star is the acting, especially by the two female stars,  widow and poetess Jane (Shannon Benton) and Marrell (Rikki Howie Lacewell), who are BFF, or they are until...

The location is mostly Tom (Kevin Walker) and Marrell's apartment where a new friend, a doctor from France (?), Jean-Pierre (Allen McRae), joins old friends, including gay Alan and Jane in an evening of games.  Jean-Pierre is a set-up by Marrell for Jane undergoing the stress of her dearly departed husband (or when she remembers him, only in the ashes a year). Marrell and Tom have a new baby who puts additional strains on their marriage as babies do. 

Mama and Papa constantly bicker:  "I thought when you got married, you were supposed to make each other feel better. We make each other feel worse."

Alan's one-liners produce lots of audience laughter and without them, it would be a dreary presentation:  "How much money do you make and is it more money than I make and how can you help me?"  

Jean-Pierre says he doesn't have a television, and Alan responds:  "Oh, don't tell me you are one of those!"  One of the best:  "I wish this room had more wainscoting."  (You have to be there.)

The set is fine, however, a room divider placed in front of the sofa when the scene changes to Jane's apartment, or two artificial trees behind the bench for the park talk would have improved the appearance and reduced the intrusion on the new scenes by the old scenes. 

Throughout the production two large wall screens display photographs of the outdoors, changing seasons, and neon bar signs, and were quite successfully employed.

Scott Richards' original music and piano playing enriched the performance in a dramatic way, particularly with perfectly timed single notes.

The script and meaning of the short last scene left me confounded. But the acting makes you realize, once again, how lucky we are in the D.C. region to be blessed with so much theatre talent.


After the show, the producer, Jesse Roberts, said the weather wrecked havoc with rehearsal time, but theatregoers never knew.

Next up:  a competition for better title!

This was directed by Tom Flatt, Set Design: Kevin King,
Lighting: Anne Marie Castrigno, Sound/Projections: Jon Roberts, Projections: Ed Conley, Costumes: Susan Boyd,
Set Decoration/Props: Jocelyn Steiner, Stage Manager: Don Libretta, Assistant Stage Manager/Crew: Laura Moody, George Sinks, Dina Green.

For a listing and reviews of other area performances, click here for DC Metro Theater Arts.

What:  This

When:  January 31, February 1, 7, and 8 (Fridays and Saturdays) at 8 p.m., and February 2 and 9 (Sundays) at 2 p.m. 

Where:  Vienna Theatre Company,120 Cherry Street, Vienna, VA 22180

Tickets:  $13

Language and adult themes make it inappropriate for most children under age 16.

For more information: 703-255-6360 or visit the website

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