ORDINARY PEOPLEby Nancy Pahl Gilesenan, adapted from the novel by Judith Guest
Resolute Theatre Project
Directed by – Jason Leyva
Set Design – Jason Leyva
Sound Design – Jason Leyva and DB Design
Lighting Design – Jason Leyva
Stage Manager – Steve Cave
Zachary Leyva – Conrad
Dayna Fries – Beth
John Paffenberger – Cal
Joshua Hahlen – Stillman
Matthew Talton – Lazenby
Sean Massey – Salan
Taylor Donnelson – Jeannine
Danny Macchietto – Dr. Berger
Gretchen Hahn – Karen
Reviewed Performance: 11/3/2017
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The novel won critical praise and awards upon its release, but it is best remembered as the 1980 film version, which won four Academy Awards including Best Picture. It also featured Robert Redford’s directorial debut.
Resolute Theatre Project brings to life another incarnation of this story in Nancy Pahl Gilesenan’s adaptation of Guest’s novel, directed by Jason Leyva. The play is presented simply, in a long room that during the week is a dance studio. Jason also acts as set designer and lighting designer for the show, and the play’s three locations are spread completely out over the long room, often making audience members crane their necks to see action in the corners representing the Jarrett’s home and Dr. Berger’s psychiatrist office. Lighting is dim overall and doesn’t quite cover each of the playing spaces but is generally functional.
Fortunately the technical effects aren’t the focus of Ordinary People. The characters and their relationships are, and on that front Jason (as director) succeeds with flying colors. His cast is spot-on and brings a raw reality to the difficult subject matter.
Carrying the show is Zachary Leyva as Conrad. Playing the awkward teenager who tried to commit suicide after his brother died in a tragic accident, Zachary gives us the impression he is barely hanging on at times, but he’s really, really trying to hold it together. He has excellent body control and comes across beautifully as he works through his trauma. He does a brilliant job with a very difficult, emotional role.
John Paffenberger plays Conrad’s father Cal with similarly authentic awkwardness, as though he really doesn’t know how to communicate with his teenage son but is truly trying to understand him and keep him from further harm. He is also trying desperately to reconnect with his wife Beth, played with cool detachment by Dayna Fries. Dayna seems to go a little TOO far playing the estrangement from her family. While she shouldn’t be likeable (and isn’t), she didn’t seem to have the depth that the other characters did and was a bit one-note.
Danny Macchietto brings some welcome humor to the play with his portrayal of the psychiatrist Dr. Berger. While both laid back and intense (often simultaneously), his Dr. Berger is slowly able to draw Conrad out and get him to address his feelings, all while swigging bad coffee and making it seem like his idea. He makes the subtlety appear effortless.
Joshua Hahlen and Matthew Talton play two of Conrad’s swim team buddies, with Matthew as the former best friend that Conrad can no longer relate to because he’s reminded too much of his brother when they’re together since the three of them hung out so much. Joshua plays the hot-headed teenager jock with true intensity, while Matthew brings a yearning pathos to his role that is sweet to watch as the show develops. His confusion and hurt at Conrad’s seeming rejection is heartbreaking, making the resolution of their friendship even more satisfying at the end. Sean Massey believably portrays the boys’ swim coach Salan with the appropriate bombastic swagger.
Gretchen Hahn portrays Karen, Conrad’s friend from when he was in the hospital after attempting to kill himself, and the two obviously bonded in their plight while there. Gretchen has Karen wound up so tight, you think she’s going to burst...which she essentially does - just offstage. She’s not on stage that much, but she definitely makes her presence known, and her relationship with Conrad is just as it should be: sad and rocky.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Taylor Donnelson’s Jeannine bonds in a different, more relaxed and somewhat romantic way with Conrad. Taylor and Zachary have excellent chemistry that builds nicely as the show progresses. She makes Jeannine vulnerable yet confident and helps bring out Conrad’s good side while allowing him to help her through some tough times as well.
One of the most stunning things about Resolute’s production of Ordinary People is the fact that the pace always feels right, even though they are not afraid of silences and pauses. It never feels slow, despite it being deliberate. Director Jason Leyva knows how to tell a story through his actors, and it’s one that isn’t easy to tell...or to hear. Which is why it needs to be told.
I know I’ve seen the film version of Ordinary People, but it’s been a long time, and I don’t remember much about it. To be honest, though, I was more affected by this production than the Academy Award winning movie. I strongly encourage everyone to see it, not only for the exceptionally fine acting, but for the message of hope it ultimately brings. Do note that the show has a very short run and a small space, so you’ll need to act fast, but it’s worth it.
Resolute Theatre Project
Amy’s Studio of Performing Arts
11888 Marsh Lane, Ste. 600
Dallas, TX 75234
Runs through November 12.
Actual days: Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $16.00.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to http://www.resolutetheatreproject.com/ or call the box office at 972-484-7900.