by Hugh Hunter
“Alone at the Beach” (1988) by Richard Dresser is a light comedy that sets out to have some fun with modern rootlessness. Now running at Old Academy Players, director Christopher Wunder and co-director Michelle Moscicki come up with an energetic cast who breathe life into Dresser’s meandering script.
At its best, “Alone” succeeds in creating a contemporary absurdist milieu. Its characters feel familiar, people who are capable and ambitious but just keep going around in circles. These young folks never grasp the comical contradiction between their interest in “relationships” and their self-preoccupation.
But the plot in “Alone” is bare bones. The main character is George, who scratches out a living as a textbook editor. He inherits a seashore house, but his only way of holding on to it is to take in weekend shares. George is also lonely, and he hopes his guests will come together to form a community.
It turns out all the guests are lonely too and spend the summer bumping into each other. “Alone” is like the set-up in “Bus Stop” by William Inge, where a bunch of strangers are thrown together by coincidence. Characters’ backstories come to light, but it is up to the actors to make these folks endearing.
In the role of George, Steve Negro shows his gifts. Some actors rely heavily on a few signature gimmicks, including some “stars” of screen and TV. But everything about Negro’s full-bodied presence suggests that George is a good-willed but wanting soul whose best hope is that someone will save him.
Kellie Cooper shines as Molly, an animated vamp who catches George’s eye. Cary Gottlieb is distinctively comical as Alex, the nerdy computer guy with tragic secrets. Brenna McBride portrays Lonnie, a libidinous Southern belle. Jillian Bosmann plays Chris, an attorney who struts around decisively but actually goes nowhere.
Vail Gualtieri is Alex, an impostor musician and out-of-tune Lothario while Jim Hopper plays psychiatrist Joe. In addition to introducing a badly needed plot complication, Joe is Dresser’s most effective satirical voice. “I sense a lot of anger in this group,” the psychiatrist tells us. But he turns out to be the only one with a really mean streak.
The cast gets you to care enough about these characters that you are happy for them when Labor Day finally rolls around. Time to close up the seashore house and go home, wherever home might be.
“Alone” is insistently light-hearted. If you compare it to European absurdist theater, it is vastly different in tone but offers a similar type of despairing circularity. So much so that when would-be lovers George and Molly try to hook up one last time, they only find themselves in an altered state of indeterminacy.
Old Academy is located at 3540-44 Indian Queen Lane. “Alone at the Beach” will run through June 22. Reservations available at 215-843-1109.
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