Composure ***

By: Sam Affoumado

A relationship between two middle-aged men whose past traumas infiltrate their present lives is at the core of  “Composure,” a romantic drama by Scott C. Sickles, presented by The Workshop Theater.

C.K. Allen, Robert Bruce McIntosh

By: Sam Affoumado

A relationship between two middle-aged men whose past traumas infiltrate their present lives is at the core of  “Composure,” a romantic drama by Scott C. Sickles, presented by The Workshop Theater.

Fletcher Driscoll (Robert Bruce McIntosh), a theater director, returns to his Alma Mater to stage a controversial college production of Romeo and Juliet to commemorate the one-year anniversary of an on-campus murder-suicide apparently propelled by unrequited love. In a discussion with his theater students (the audience) Fletcher asks, “What can Romeo and Juliet teach and remind us about the insanity and fragility… and necessity of love? “How do we take what we’ve learned and begin to heal?” Fletcher’s answer to his own question is… “I don’t know.”

Mr. Sickles’ play is a study of how people manage to face life in the aftermath of tragedy. Most every character in the play has had to face their demons both great and small, and survive the residual effects of loss, bullying, sexual abuse, a dissolved marriage, bearing witness to a horrific murder-suicide and yes, unrequited love.

The artistic and often frenetic Fletcher meets Jeff  (CK Allen), the handsome and seemingly composed associate Dean of Humanities and sparks begin to fly. From the get-go, Fletcher tells Jeff that it can only be a fling because he will shortly be leaving town and therefore, the relationship has “got an expiration date.” Jeff agrees to the terms and their relationship begins. As the story unfolds, we meet Amanda (Susan Izatt) Jeff’s ex-wife who is not only saddened by the dissolution of her long-term marriage but still grieves the premature loss of her brother to Cancer. Fletcher meets Beth (Christine Verleny) a sympathetic housewife who witnessed (with her two young daughters) the on-campus, murder-suicide and by chance or contrivance, happens to be married to Tommy (Rob Ventre) the unsympathetic bully who was the cause of Fletcher’s high school trauma.

Secrets begin to unfold; plots and subplots twist as the playwright and audience try to connect the dots. Unfortunately, the overlaying connections made to Romeo and Juliet often feels forced. We understand the parallels on a visceral level. Love, loss, grief and even trauma are universal experiences. We can relate, in varying degrees, to love that is not reciprocated and it is, indeed, a painful experience. Mr. Sickles writing is insightful enough without having to resort to the constant references to Shakespeare’s play. The exception is in the brilliant scene where Amanda is lecturing about Frank Bernard Dicksee’s painting, “Romeo and Juliet.” Dicksee shows us the morning after their wedding night where Juliet is depicted in bedclothes while Romeo is dressed with one leg over the balcony and ready to go. In counterpoint, we see Fletcher and Jeff the morning after their fling with Jeff in his bedclothes and Fletcher with one foot out the door. This particular scene is rich with imagery and fluidly reveals the inner souls of the characters. Bravo, Mr. Sickles!

The mercurial Robert Bruce McIntosh (Fletcher) and the charismatic C.K. Allen (Jeff) are cast standouts. Their characters couldn’t be more opposite if they tried but we are always rooting for them. Christine Verleny (Beth) and Susan Izatt (Amanda) give heartfelt performances. Rob Ventre (Tommy) is more than convincing as the quintessential bully/abuser and Cliff Miller (Christopher) rounds out the capable cast.

Director Fritz Brekeller, who has worked extensively in the Soap Opera realm (winning a daytime Emmy Award as part of the directing team of “One Life to Live”), moves this multi-layered, multi-themed play along smoothly and at a lively pace despite the fact that many of the scenes are short and end abruptly. They might be better served as camera cross fades on a TV screen than on the stage.

The set is an abstract grouping of mobile monolithic pieces that function beautifully as different scene locations and serve as a backdrop for the many screen projections and inscriptions. Kudos to set designer Elizabet Puksto, projection designer Greg Emetaz and lighting designer Diana Duecker.

Susan Izatt, J. Warren Weber, C.K. Allen, Robert Bruce McIntosh, Christine Verleny, Rob Ventre

June 1 to June 24, 2017. The Workshop Theater, 312 West 36th Street,  4th fl. East Presented by The Workshop Theater (Thomas Coté, Artistic Director; Dana Leslie Goldstein, Managing Director)
Thursdays & Fridays at 7:00 PM, Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM. Added performance Wednesday, June 21 at 7:00 PM.
$25 general admission, $18 students and seniors.
Box office or 866.811.4111 (Ovation Tickets).
Running time: 2:15 (Ten-minute intermission).
Photos: Gerry Goodstein