On the surface, Elizabeth Diggs' comedy drama "Goodbye Freddy" looks like just another entry in the family-and/or-friends-gathering-after-a funeral-to-hash things-out genre. Don't be fooled. Diggs' writing sets it apart with incisive character delineation, careful balancing of dramatic values as the play progresses, and a deliciously unexpected revelation that ends Act I and nearly ends a marriage.
At the Irvine Community Theatre, some of these values are intact, some are not. Tom Titus has directed the play with a good feel for the use of the space's tiny stage and a fine sense of the rhythms that flow through the action. What he has not been able to bring off is the sense of intimacy that has marked the characters' friendship since, as one of them says, "we were in diapers."
The missing member of the group is the deceased Freddy, beloved by all. Paul and Alice have reached a stage in their marriage where they amicably put up with one another. Andy and Nessa are divorced but distanced enough from their marriage to once again appreciate each other as human beings. Hank and Kate are the couple put on the edge of disaster by the revelation that Hank's friendship with Freddy was--in high school and later--more than it appeared.
As Hank, John Parker suffers not one whit when the secret comes out. Something that would, at the very least, make someone in his milieu nervous leaves him about as upset as finding no beer in the fridge before Monday Night Football. Beth Titus is much closer to the mark as his understanding wife who momentarily loses her ability to understand. In the production's best performance, her transition from tranquillity to violence is believable and reaches the right levels of emotional shading as she tries to reconcile Hank's lifelong dishonesty.
As Nessa, the divorcee who has written a book that exploits her barely disguised friends, Lenore Stjerne displays a resigned archness that works just fine. As her ex, Lee Clark doesn't delve too deeply into his characterization, remaining only pleasant and cheery throughout.
Tracy Godfrey's Paul also is quite colorless, without subtext or much detail. Marcia Bertholf, as his simplistically minded wife who is a group member by marriage only, is abrasive where she should be witty, demanding where she should be arch, leading to the wrong conclusion that Paul would be justified in having the affair he perhaps jokingly considers.
But it is in the balance of the relationships that the production really slips. One never is convinced that these couples are intimately connected. With a cast that has failed to find the ensemble feeling required by the writing, this staging is too loosely knit and never achieves the devastating effect that is this play's due.
* "Goodbye Freddy," Irvine Community Theatre, Turtle Rock Community Park, Irvine. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Oct. 29. $8. (714) 857-5496. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes. Beth Titus Kate
John Parker: Hank
Tracy Godfrey: Paul
Marcia Bertholf: Alice
Lee Clark: Andy
Lenore Stjerne: Nessa
An Irvine Community Theatre production of a comedy-drama by Elizabeth Diggs, directed by Tom Titus. Set and lighting design: Joann Urban. Stage manager: Midge Godfrey.