by Kay Bourne

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday November 4, 2013

Alexandria King and  Becca Lewis
Alexandria King and Becca Lewis  (Source:Craig Bailey / Perspective Photo)

Kirsten Greenidge's comedy of small town manners "Splendor" visits a fictional, but recognizable place North of Boston where residents are preparing for a Thanksgiving dinner on the evening before the big day.

The emotionally involving tale is set in Bellington, a place the playwright explored previously in "Luck of the Irish," which went on from its Huntington Theater Company staging last year to New York's Lincoln Center.

This production, which continues through Nov. 16 in the BCA's Plaza Theater, is by Company One, the edgy theater group whose by-word is diversity and where Greenidge is a playwright in residence.

With "Splendor," director Shawn LaCount perfectly exploits the telephone party line, everybody-knows-your-name/everybody-knows-your-shame, gossip mill that is the mores of small town life.

His peerless, insightful direction is flawlessly realized by the heartfelt and skillful performances of the ensemble cast.

Hannah Cranton and Michael Knowlton
Hannah Cranton and Michael Knowlton  (Source: Craig Bailey / Perspective Photo)

The connective tissue of personal histories written as brief encounters that tie everyone together for better and for worse provides the structure for Greenidge's experimental play.

The two main story-lines are about a bi-racial woman who grows up here, but never to fit in completely, and the death of a high school football star player resulting from a dare that continues to darken the lives of more than his immediate family.

The pulse of "Splendor" is like ripping off the surface façade of a Norman Rockwell painting to see the beating heart and breathing lungs beneath. It does not diminish the beauty of the place and the generic humanity of the people who live there, but their individual angst and quirks and heartaches are now visible too.

A meticulous writer, the myriad details in Greenidge's play also accumulate into an essay on racial prejudice New England style which only friendship seems capable of penetrating.

It also explores the economic realities for Bellington citizenry when the economy takes a downturn. The recession widens the gap between the well-to-do who will enjoy the upscale Whole Foods that's recently opened up and the blue collar worker and those who have lost their jobs who will miss the Foodmaster which made way for the more gourmet market.

Alexandria King and  Molly Kimmerling
Alexandria King and Molly Kimmerling  (Source: Craig Bailey / Perspective Photo)

We begin in 2012, with Fran Giosa preparing a turkey dinner and all the fixings -a departure from her mom's catch-as-catch-can meals. But Fran, now a divorced mother that has returned to Bellington, seeks stability in her life. It is something she needs after a chaotic upbringing: she grew up in the projects with a single mom not knowing who her dad is, and as a child was told by her mom that she was tanned by the sun, not bi-racial. Her turbulent teen years followed, then a marriage to a wealthy man that has disintegrated.

Alexandria King gives an engrossing performance as Fran at different points in her life: first as an eight-year-old (happily skipping rope with her best friend Nicole, sweetly portrayed by Molly Kimmerling), right through to her as a 35-year-old who feels that life in Bellington is restrictive and somewhat suffocating.

Her ditsy, needy, klepto mom, Gloria, gets a terrific personification from Becca Lewis; while Fran's indecisive brother, Anthony, searching but yet to find himself, is well played by Danny Mourino, particularly when he tracks down his dad, Clive Cooper (a strong performance from James Milord). Their awkward reunion reveals the hurt dad still harbors at being ousted from their lives when the pressure of an inter-racial marriage in Bellington was more than the otherwise free spirited Gloria could handle.

Alexandria King
Alexandria King  (Source: Craig Bailey / Perspective Photo)

In the intervening years, Clive has partnered up with the empathetic Aline Phillips (well played by Obehi Janice), who early on in her professional life was a school guidance counselor until an encounter with a student (who, as it happens, is now the husband of Fran's childhood friend Nicole) had her rethink her career path. That would be Mike Mahoney, who has yet to get a grip on life. Michael Knowlton effectively portrays Mike's bravado and twitchiness.

The episodes involving the remaining four characters are revelatory of the drowning of the football hero, which occurred many years ago but still haunts the lives of his family and friends.

In fact, one gossipy conversation with three Bellington moms, all of whom have known each other since elementary school, is the seed of "Splendor." It was first seen as part of the pastiche of playlets that made up "Grimm" performed by Company One in 2004. "Splendor" was developed through 2012-2013 XX PlayLab, a collaborative project between Boston Center for the Arts with Company One.

Greg Maraio is touching as the drowned boy's dad Dave Murphy who tries to carry on but whose heart isn't quite in the effort. His bold and brassy daughter Lisa Murphy (nice portrayal from Nicole Prefontaine) is still grieving as well. Her friend Colleen Madden Colby, also discontent, is well played by Hannah Cranton.

All of these tenderly drawn stories are played out against a barebones set from Christine Tedesco, well lit by Jen Rock.

With more characters than a Grandma Moses memory painting, "Splendor" might have come off as more soap opera than literature, but Greenidge's depth of characterization for every one of these people and her compassion for the pain that life and their short-comings has dealt them results instead in memorable drama.

"Splendor" by Kirsten Greenidge continues through Sat., Nov. 16 at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) Plaza Theatre, 527 Tremont St. in the South End. For more info please phone 617-933-8600 or go to www.BostonTheatreScene.com.