Directed by Stella Powell-Jones
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“Right now, it’s time for us to do something. If not now, then when. Will we see an end. To all this pain. It’s not enough to do nothing. It’s time for us to do something.” – “Do Something” by Matthew West
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Just ask the irrepressible Lydia Rauscher (Michele Pawk) come to visit her daughter Vera (Stephanie DiMaggio) for the baby shower for Lydia’s younger daughter Annie. Lydia flees Cleveland after the death of her husband and son Griffin, leaves Vera to manage the apartment building she owns, and hooks up with Stuart in Las Vegas where what happens remains a secret. But Lydia’s Vegas secrets are no match for the Pandora’s Box of punchy revelations awaiting her at 17 Orchard Point. Anton Dudley and Stephanie DiMaggio’s play – named after that apartment – is a chilling psychological thriller with all the necessary twists and turns to keep the audience gasping and guessing for an emotionally-laden seventy-five glorious minutes at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row in Manhattan.
What happened at 17 Orchard Point some thirty years ago comes back to haunt Lydia and shake the very foundations of Vera’s ego strength. What happened swirls around two christening gowns that Vera retrieves at her sister’s request from the basement of the apartment – home of handyman Leonard. The mystery begins to unfold when Lydia discovers she has walked into a trap: Vera is not hosting a baby shower for Annie – that shower took place a week prior at Vera’s brother-in-law’s house. One gown is embroidered with Vera’s sister’s birth name: Annie Marie Rauscher. The other is embroidered with Vera’s birth name: Vera Elaine Thomason.
The “stuff” of “17 Orchard Point” revolves around Vera’s insistence that her mother disclose why Vera’s christening gown has a different last name than her father’s. That secret will be left to the audience to discover – and the reader should not assume too much by that different last name – the truth is far more devastating than one might imagine. Even after the truth is revealed, there are more secrets, more truths, to be disclosed – including Lydia’s decision to sell the apartment building and leave Vera virtually homeless and jobless. Those truths are uncovered in a rapid-fire “truth-or-dare” (without the dare) match between mother and daughter. Ms. DiMaggio and Ms. Pawk light the stage with fireworks in this and all scenes in the play. Their craft is remarkable and unswerving. It is a gift to see these two actors square off with one another in a duet of thrilling bravura performances.
When Lydia first enters the apartment, she announces to Vera, “Remember what Nana used to say? “Leave your baggage at the door or it’ll end up on your face! The little things!” Lydia repeats that mantra – the little things – at least seven times during the play and each time the phrase is a harbinger of quite “big things” to come. Both Lydia and Vera are repeatedly hit in the face with truths that should set them free but instead open a multitude of wounds in the process. The manner in which these characters handle the pain and move forward in their lives is stunning and manages to profoundly engage the audience and connect with the audience in powerful ways. Some of the truths in “17 Orchard Point” hit more than Lydia and Vera’s faces during this brilliantly acted and brilliantly directed play.
At least five religious symbols grace Vera’s apartment: three crucifixes, a statue, and a twisted bit of palm. With relatively few instruments, Daisy Long lights these and the rest of the interior and the exterior of 17 Orchard Point with satisfying believability. Her lighting and John McDermott’s multilevel, multi-room set provide the lived-in charming realism that belies the shadows that insist on becoming light. Vera’s faith and its accoutrements have managed to keep her demons at bay for a very long time and her encounter with Lydia is the beginning of an exorcism and a catharsis of epic proportions. The necessary catharsis works as well as it does in large part because of the Lydia brought to life by Michele Pawk. Her Lydia gives the audience a mother in the midst of a psych- dramatic meltdown as she attempts to keep truth at bay just a little longer.
“17 Orchard Point” is a play about honesty, motivation, self-esteem, disillusionment, love, and indifference. Who is the mysterious Thomason? Does Lydia really love Vera? What is Vera’s relationship with Leonard? These questions and many more are answered as daughter and mother unpack thirty years of secrets, thirty years of unspoken feelings, and thirty years of imprisonment in the past. It is a play ultimately about what happens when nothing is done when time and again it has been time to do something. It would be shame to miss this fascinating play and even more a shame if it does not enjoy a future beyond its current run.