Whether there are five, seven or — who knows — twelve and one-half stages of grief over loss would be a debate in which few of us are willing to take part. After all, it’s not likely to be pretty, this talking of grief. And if we’re willing to take a guess, we would guess that Roland Oliver is none too happy about exploring them either. And who could blame him. Really.
. . .the dialogue, the script throughout from start to end, and how well all of the actors exchange the demands of it that gives “Beginning Again” its strength. The more charm the better.
Nevertheless, he will. And that’s because in “Beginning Again,” — winner of Alleyway Theater’s 2016 Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition – we are taken through three seasons (acts) of Roland’s progression of grief over the loss of his wife, jamming however many stages of grief we might dispense into it. You might think: that’s a lot. And you might be right.
But that’s okay, because it is David Alan Brown’s script that is the leading light here, after all, it won the Alleyway prize competition which, by its very definition must be unique and not imitative of a typical TV or film script. Mr. Brown won the prize with good reason. He doesn’t seek to define the stages of grief, he rather seems to want to dissect and scatter them to dust.
His script takes us through three seasons – winter, then autumn, then spring – making a single stop at each season and the progression of Roland Oliver’s trying to come to grips with the death of his wife. Roland is a critic by trade of, well, various art forms, and unavoidably a critic of the grieving process and even life. It has been his occupation. He needs to define, understand all of it, and this is what drives the play forward.
The first act finds him on a train where he meets Anita Bryant (not the Florida Oranges Anita Bryant) but an Anita Bryant whose life experience includes falling down a well as a child. Anita is a survivor and she seems to do so simply, with street-wise answers and anecdotes to Roland’s struggle. There are no easy answers for Roland in this early stage, and he would not have them anyway. So Anita’s gifts only provoke his underlying grief, which helps bring forward Roland’s angry rage and an emotional breakdown right there on the train. But Roland goes up and down swinging, much to actor David Hayes’ credit.
In autumn, Roland is in woodsy rural Pennsylvania where he meets Gene, who is fishing along the road to his land. After Roland has another emotional breakdown, Gene, a vaguely proclaimed wise old man, offers up Roland some down-home advice which Roland is typically skeptical about. But Gene’s skills are an even better match for Roland’s criticism. Or maybe Roland has, in the time that has passed, become more open to healing.
In spring, Roland meets with his gifted son, Dante, at an art gallery. It’s awkward. They have yet to take the time to speak of their grief, but their memories of family’s shared history brings them closer to one another and to the understanding of their mournful never ending. Through it all are raised more questions than answers as to grief and its stages, as light is shed on the subject of coping with a strobe effect more than a shining beacon. But questions likely have no simple answer, and they may be fleeting, and it all may come down to how Roland and Dante look at it. The prism they bring.
Make no mistake. A synopsis of “Beginning Again” does not begin to describe Brown’s script, nor the play as a whole. Together with Alleyway’s production, this script is about an everlasting grief, a momentary coping, a desire to move forward and move on with meaning and, obviously, a search for where to begin again. Among these the script presses on the paradoxes of how we cope with emotional stress and the things we tell ourselves and one another.
All of this the script conveys with philosophical musings, intelligent ruminations, humorous wit and lyrical dialogue. It is left to the actors to lend the charm. They move through it wonderfully and convincingly covering, as it does, so much in so little time. Anita, played by, Smirna Mercedes-Perez, brings a welcome lightness and humor, a sense of realism and contrast to the usually stoic Roland; and Tom Owen gives a wonderfully wise yet smart-alecky feel to Gene the fisherman. But it’s the dialogue, the script throughout from start to end, and how well all of the actors exchange the demands of it that gives “Beginning Again” its strength. The more charm the better.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes
“Beginning Again” runs until March 10, 2010 and is presented at Alleyway Theatre. For more information, click here.