|A moment from Framed (Tom Chargin)|
(at 18th & Union)
Through November 25, 2018
There’s that marital saying that’s supposed to be true: “Happy wife, happy life.” Y York’s latest production, Framed, attempts to explore that idea in two very different marriages. Joan and Nick DaSilva (Susanna Burney and Joe Seefeldt) are the older couple with a long, successful marriage. May and Jake Carter (Maile Wong and Jeremy Steckler) are the very young married couple who may not have quite got the hang of it, yet. But York likes to mix things up and what you see on the surface might not be what’s going on underneath.
Joan is an artist and Nick is a successful businessman. They appear to be successful in all areas of their endeavors, with Joan selling her paintings moderately well at decent prices. Jake works as a car mechanic but longs for a “better” life and doesn’t want May to work. He wants her to do whatever she wants, like have hobbies, which she does not yet have any idea about.
Jake, it turns out, wants to work for Nick and spends a lot of time accidentally running into Nick to get hired. May, in an attempt to have a hobby, finds Joan giving art lessons, but has her reasons why she’s loathe to let Jake know she’s learning to paint.
The first act of the play is fun and funny as we get to know these couples and find out more about their secrets and the state of their marriage. Later on, York pulls some switcheroos that may surprise you. Aspects of those surprises may not be quite so amusing.
It becomes clear that the “main” character is Joan and finding out more about her and how she thinks. When we learn that her husband has been helping her feel good about her art by buying it surreptitiously, we have to start figuring out if their marriage is really a good one.
Is it helpful for a husband to support his wife by helping her think she’s moderately successful in the “real world” or is it propping up someone who isn’t that “good” at it? Nick seems to really love her and had decided a long time ago to help her feel like a real artist by buying the art and not telling her. It certainly sounds like he’s found that formula of “happy wife, happy life.”
Then we have May, who seems to be keeping secrets from Jake, though we’re not sure why. Joan makes an interesting assumption about that and thinks that it’s the stereotypical reason. Jake must be abusive toward May. But the answers are not that. They are more complicated than that.
The production, helmed by Mark Lutwak, has a simple modular set of white boxes that turn into couches and beds and bar counters. A crucial element is music by local composer Wayne Horvitz, as curated by Lutwak.
A unique partnership is at play for the set. In the background, there are nine paintings. The paintings are turned around one at a time during scenes in particular places. One painting is hanging in Nick and Joan’s house. One painting is in the bar. One painting is in Jake and May’s place. All the nine paintings were painted by local artists and are available for sale to audience members. Each of the paintings was painted to enhance the individual locations of the play!
This is a well-done little puzzle. At first the scenes feel almost too short as they ping pong between the couples. Later, they become more substantive as the emotions and the situations become more complex.
York has a great ear for dialogue and the four actors know who they are and what their characters need to do. While at first, Wong as May seems a bit peremptory and surface, later her character also shows more depth and maturity than you expect. Hopefully, though, she’ll get a little less choppy in her delivery as the run goes on. The character could be a tad bit more vulnerable than she’s is currently showing.
The title, Framed, has many layers. The play has many layers. They are fulfilling to peel back and find out what lies underneath.