Braden McKinley, director of the currently running Plaza Players' production "For the Use of the Hall," explained after the opening night performance that he was drawn to Oliver Hailey's relatively little-known work by "the message" of what he characterizes as "a feel-good play."
Others might find the message--"the only life that's wasted is one that's not lived"--to be a bit depressing, at least in this context. For it's difficult to warm to any of Hailey's protagonists, and all of their lives seem wasted to one degree or another--if only because the characters are basically intelligent and privileged.
Hailey's lack of subtlety is reflected in one of his protagonists, Martin, a failed (drum roll, please) playwright whose uniformly unsuccessful efforts still manage to get reviewed in the New York Times.
Hailey's own previous credits include "Who's Happy Now," "Father's Day" and "I Won't Dance." And if "For the Use of the Hall' is typical of his oeuvre, it's safe to assume that Hailey dreads reviews as much as his surrogate does.
His lack of ease with conversational English has a couple of characters using the expressions "gunned down" and "fired upon" where any normal person would have said, simply, "shot."
The nature of Hailey's structuring--with flashbacks from the turn of the upcoming century back to 1976--makes it difficult to see what's going on until several minutes into the play.
Allen (played by Jeff Hoheimer), a formerly successful art dealer, and his wife, Charlotte (Max Pemberton), are down on their luck and have moved into a Long Island summer house owned by Bess, which they expect to inherit as soon as she dies. One of the show's gimmicks is that Bess doesn't die; it's she who is flashing back.
The other characters include Terry (Cindy Fullerton), Allen's sister, who is a nun feeling disenfranchised from the church; and Alice (Bonnie James), a successful author of children's books who is a friend of playwright Martin (Larry Gund). All, except for Bess, wind up at the house, none particularly expecting the others to be there. Complications and conflicts ensue, none of them particularly compelling.
McKinley's cast and crew do what they can with the material. Marlene Reinhart is a noble and self-assured Bess; she deserves to live into the next century.
* WHERE AND WHEN
"For the Use of the Hall" continues Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Sept. 28 at the Plaza Players Theater, 34 N. Palm St., (in the Old Town Livery courtyard) in Ventura. Tickets are $6 on Wednesdays, $7.50 on Fridays, and $8.50 on Saturdays. For reservations or further information, call (805) 643-9460.