It’s getting kind of scary out there. Sometimes the best theatre for a moment of crisis is lightly refreshing social comedy. That’s exactly what Forge Theater manages with the premier of Not Today. Directed by Jake Brockman, a talented, appealing cast delivers a genuinely funny script to the stage that’s been written by David Stein and Hannah Mitchell. Two couples and a couple of others meet in a cozy domestic setting for a wedding anniversary dinner. Things predictably go wrong. Things inexplicably go right. It’s a fun 90 minutes of light comedy without intermission. It’s a new script. A couple of writers (sort of) had a chance to hang out with a piece of writing they wrote about a group of people hanging out together. So it’s a party, but nothing fancy. You don’t have to dress-up or anything like that. Go to the bar at Urban Harvest. Get a beer and head in to the theatre to see the show.
Settle-in for the show and you’ll get to know the living room of one of the characters before she shows-up onstage. Scenic Designer Amy Sue Hazel has managed the tricky task of making a very small space on a small stage feel cozy and lived-in. It’s a living room. There’s a doggy bed, framed pictures of Disney characters, a few owl-themed knickknacks and a few Harry Potter novels. Not far from a trio of white, ceramic owls recreating the three wise monkeys there rests the ashes of a beloved pet named Guinea Weasley.
The living room decor comes courtesy of Claire. Casually dazzling Stephanie Staszak is sweet and earnest as Claire—a veterinarian who has decided to get a little ambitious and make beef bourguignon for the occasion. She’s had problems with cooking in the past, but she’s totally confident about her ability to host an anniversary party for her friends with her live-in boyfriend Byron.
Seth K. Hale is sweetly unhinged as Byron—-a man with far deeper concerns than the fate of the beef bourguignon. He hopes to propose to Claire. He’s so wrapped-up in his own nervousness that he’s totally oblivious to the fact that doing so during a challenging anniversary get-together might not be the best idea, especially after what he did at the couple’s wedding one year ago.
Appealingly affable April Paul plays Jo, who was particularly upset about Byron’s behavior at her wedding. Paul has a warm confidence about her in the role. She seems totally at home playing a very responsible and caring person. Send Jo out for beer and she’ll come back with beer and Gatorade. (She’s just that cool.) Paul is perfect for the role of a woman who is perfectly suited to the impending motherhood that she and her husband announce very early-on in the comedy.
The father-to-be is the other half of “Team J.” (Husband and wife met in high school chemistry class and have been inseparable ever since.) Ben Yela taps into some comically restless energy in the role of Jack: a man on the verge of a major life change that he may not be totally ready for. Yela and Paul have a cute familiarity about them as “Team J” that adds considerably to the openly social atmosphere onstage.
There are a couple of others showing-up for the party. Actor/playwright David Stein tactfully plays a friend of Jack and Byron--a guy named Tommy. Tommy owns a bar. He’s straining under the yoke of his injured mother who constantly calls him. The guy could have come across as a sad sack, but Stein plays to the inner complexities of the character. He may hate getting calls from his mother, but he’s not exactly turning his phone off. And he may be lonely and not actually pursuing anything in the way of a relationship, but he IS a small business owner and likely very busy and stressed-out. Nevertheless, Jack and Byron are really, really concerned about Tommy’s sexless sex life and want to do something about it. Tommy would prefer to relax.
What is a party without the unexpected? Kyle Conner plays Jimmy--an old, dear friend of Claire’s who happens into the party in a rather unexpected way. Conner is great fun as a totally together guy who serves as a vibrant splash of wisdom looking-in around the edges of life in a group of semi-neurotic people--most of whom are complete strangers to him.
It’s a great group of people to spend 90 minutes with. Every so often there’s an exceedingly social comedy like this the comes along that is SO comfortable that it scarcely feels like 90 minutes. On some level it didn't even fee like theatre. On some level it feels like they’re people I just met. I just kind of...expect to see the characters around town at coffee shops and grocery stores and things. I KNOW I won’t. And that IS a little disappointing. They’re only there onstage for an hour and a half. It’s a really fun 90 minutes, though.
Forge Theater’s production of Not Today runs through Mar. 28th at Urban Harvest Brewing Company on 1024 S. 5th St. For ticket reservations and more visit Forge Theater online.