Homegrown Pastime at the Cloverdale Playhouse

By on 16 February, 2015 in Fun, Jesseca Cornelson with 1 Comment

PASTIME House  Photo Vintage January 5 2015 James DesignLast Thursday, I had the pleasure of watching the debut performance of Pastime, written and directed by Greg Thornton, at the Cloverdale Playhouse. The Playhouse selected the script (submitted under a pseudonym) for development in the 2014 Page-to-Stage series. The simple plot captures the complex dynamics of the contemporary American family. Ten years after the death of the Hanson father, the adult children of the Hanson family and their spouses meet for dinner with their mother Helen (Teri Sweeney) at their childhood home, where the house and its future are up for debate.

The house means something a little different for each member of the family, and each approaches the house with a slightly different philosophy. At the poles are Don (Stephen Dubberly), a lawyer who wants to buy the house and keep it in the family, and Mark (Matthew Givens), a professor who sees the house unsentimentally as an unsustainable money pit in constant need of expensive repair. In the middle are the priest Geoff (John McWilliams), who wants family peace, and career-woman Francie (Mariah Reilly), who yearns for recognition and the same independence her brothers enjoy without question. Rounding out the cast are Don’s wife Barb (Sarah Adkins) and Francie’s husband Jerry (Scott Page), both of whom add comedy and emotional depth to play.

In a family this size, it’s inevitable that there are alliances and resentments, but by the end of the play I was left feeling less that the conflict among the characters is irreconcilable than that it is the product of incomplete communication. Many times over one sibling would voice assumptions about others’ thoughts and feelings, and another sibling would either note that he or she had never been asked his or her thoughts or would suggest that the mother be asked what her wishes were. While such miscommunication is probably the norm among families, I kept expecting there to be a family secret or past trauma that shaded their current viewpoints, but nothing was ever revealed.

Nonetheless, each of the siblings has different kinds of memories about their parents and growing up in the house, and the play reflects how gender and aspirational conflicts can have very real effects on familial relationships. While Helen seems to genuinely love each of her children, Francie feels neglected and bound by the expectations of her as the only daughter and Mark still aches from his father’s preference for Don’s athleticism and inability to connect with Mark intellectually. The perception of being loved differently by their parents has followed the children into adulthood and become an integral part of their ethos.

The play is beautifully realized on a set designed by Mike Winkelman that makes a virtue of the theater’s small stage. With the exception of a hilarious, off-stage mock-World Series game of wiffle ball, the play’s action takes place on the porch of the family home. The worn exterior telescopes the house’s years of beloved—and sometimes not so beloved—use. As the title suggests, the front porch is that most-American of communal locations.

While Pastime may lack the fireworks of plays with more controversial content, it nonetheless captures the quiet seething of the American family, a creature grown desperate under the expectations of a changing society but tender-hearted and loving all the same. By play’s end one wonders if the traditional American family is an artifact of times past.

Pastime runs February 12-22, with performances nightly at 7:30pm Thursday through Saturday and at 2pm on Sunday afternoons. The Cloverdale Playhouse is located at 960 Cloverdale Road in Montgomery. For ticket information, visit the Cloverdale Playhouse’s website or call at (334) 262-1530.

Jesseca Cornelson is an Assistant Professor of English at Alabama State University and is a resident of Cloverdale. She grew up in Mobile and did her graduate studies in the Yankee North, earning degrees at The Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati. She blogged about her visits to Montgomery to do research at her now-defunct blog, Difficult History, and was a Platte Clove Artist-in-Residence, sponsored by the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development.

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  1. Although we were not in attendance our family reflects the gratitude that both the “The Hat Team” and Playhouse have shown our Cloverdale Community in the quality of service and performances which are evident in this great neighborhood. Godspeed and blessing to all for a successful production!

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