Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ’ “Roleplay” premiered at the Group Repertory Theatre in 1989 and went on to a successful off-Broadway run in New York. Now it’s back at Group Rep with a new name, “Reaching Up,” and it’s as bright and listenable as it was the first time around.
With a book by Haverty and music by Russ (lyrics are by both), it plays fluidly over a series of meetings of a women’s encounter group run by the understanding and encouraging Grace (Irene Chapman). Though the show’s cleverness travels well, sometimes the problems of these troubled women looked a little more pertinent in 1989.
This was before spousal abuse became television’s problem of the week, and before sexual harassment became the lawsuit of choice. The woes bemoaned by these women are weak tea by comparison.
Liz (Gay Storm) is an executive with a house-husband and three teen-age offspring. She can’t decide if she should take a job offer that might distance her farther from her family both literally and figuratively. Molly (Janet Wood) worries constantly over being too overweight to keep her husband Harry interested. Rock singer Dena (Lori Street-Tubert) is afraid to make a comeback after four years of staring out her apartment window.
Sage (Diana Martin) lives by the signs of the occult, which keeps her from ever moving beyond the third date, and lesbian Chlo (Pat Sturges) is struggling to keep the apron strings around the neck of her 14-year-old son. Women’s concerns have certainly escalated.
What gives this production a sheen of freshness is the crisp, glowing direction of Lonny Chapman, the energetic musical direction of Paul Cady, who accompanies on piano (with Robert Mills on percussion), and the full dimension given Haverty’s characters by a vocally solid group of performers who are also actresses with insight into their roles.
The songs are predominantly integrated into the story line and continue the action rather than interrupting it. One, “The Passing of a Friend,” Molly’s jubilant celebration of her philandering husband’s exit, her “funeral service to her marriage license,” is a country-flavored rouser worthy of wider exposure, and Wood gives it a welcome exuberance.
Storm’s firm, clear belting of “Things Look Different” and “Doing It at Home,” Liz’s executive decision to stay with the kids, are also notable.
T.H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times.
Where and When
What: “Reaching Up.”
Location: Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood.
Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Jan. 15.
Price: $10 to $12.
Call: (818) 769-7529.