Rendering fact into believable fiction can sometimes pose a greater challenge than spinning fiction out of utterly imaginary thread.
The facts can weigh down the flights of fancy needed to explain the whys of the tale. The world premiere of Judy Montague’s “Dance of the Mayfly” at the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre through Dec. 17 is based on an actual sad story of failed love and broken dreams. But, although the playwright has already taken considerable liberties with what did happen, more is needed before this “Mayfly” can take flight.
The work is heavy on back story. Nearly 20 years have passed since the drama that inspires the play occurred.
Mona and Angie were high-school girlfriends. Mona and Gary were in love. Angie, who was evidently a bit of a tramp, seduced Gary briefly in the back of a red convertible. Pregnancy, mar riage and bitterness ensued. Angie fled Gary and her baby, Barney, when the child was just 4. Gary dies of cancer, leaving Barney confused and alone.
“Dance of the Mayfly” begins when the grown-up Barney meets Mona through Mona’s nephew--his friend, Mack--and begs answers about his parents. Mona, who has hardened into a lonely soul since losing Gary, is not interested in enlightening anyone about anything.
But the unlikely couple, meeting under a wine-soaked “Moon for the Misbegotten” mood, need each other to heal.
Healing, however, requires a bold stab at understanding the extensive wounds of the abandoned. The playwright takes timid refuge in natural, often funny dialogue, skillfully delivered by a crackerjack cast, but the story itself steadily shrinks in potential stature as it misses most opportunities to plumb the characters for their depths.
Why didn’t Gary and Angie marry and divorce if they were so unhappy with their shotgun marriage? Why didn’t Gary and Mona marry after Angie fled? What really happened on those two all-important nights--one of seduction and the other of flight? Why was Mona considered a pariah afterward? Why did she never marry at all?
And why all the throwaway lines that lead nowhere? Barney once had a one-night stand with Mack’s girlfriend, Laurie; is that tossed in just to say how common the incident that occurred between Mona, Gary and Angie? Does Barney bring Mona a gift of a Virgin Mary statue because he wants her to be his mother? If Mona is a collector of old things because she wants to hold on to the past, why does she never interact with the old things that are so attractively cluttered on Robert Earl’s expansive, homey kitchen set?
Blame the professionalism of Jean Hauser’s direction for making one care enough to ask the questions. Elizabeth A. Soukup is riveting as Mona. With her fearful eyes occasionally blinking in a controlled face, she seems to be begging the script to let her blossom. Marc Raia displays a remarkably natural comedic delivery for the understated jokes that are the highlights of Montague’s script.
Chance Hunt brings emotional muscularity to Mack, but his role with his aunt is less clearly defined, as is that of Laurie, played by the appealing Lisa Guggenheim. Is Laurie’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy supposed to provide commentary on the past?
Kim Porter, a welcome newcomer to San Diego stages, provides what Bernard Malamud once called the “starved-behind-bright-smiles” look as Barney’s blind date, Doreen. And Paul L. Nolan lends solid support as Mona’s brother, Ray, though one wishes the playwright gave him more to do in providing insight about Mona’s relationship with her family, from whom she is increasingly estranged.
Matthew Cubitto’s lighting falls lightly on the slight threads of the play, as does the wistful, pretty song by Jack Pollack that provides the theme. Dianne Holly’s costumes are pleasingly natural--Doreen’s tight get-up is particularly perfect--although one could wish for a more definitive contrast between what Mona wears at the beginning and the end.
The mayfly is an insect that has but a few hours to mate and lay eggs before dying. Part of the confusion of this play stems from a lack of clarity as to whether the mayfly is Angie, who mated and fled, or Barney and Mona, who need to meet and heal if they are not to succumb to a quick spiritual death.
What is most frustrating about this appealing work-in-progress is that this question, like the myriad others generated by the script, is sufficiently compelling to tantalize, but does not come along with the answers that might satisfy.
“DANCE OF THE MAYFLY”
By Judy Montague. Director is Jean Hauser. Set by Robert Earl. Lighting by Matthew Cubitto. Sound by John Hauser. Costumes by Dianne Holly. Original music by Jack Pollack. Stage manager is Virginia M. Deeds. With Chance Hunt, Marc Raia, Elizabeth A. Soukup, Paul L. Nolan, Lisa Guggenheim and Kim Porter. At 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 17. At 547 4th Ave., San Diego.