On Theater: 'Reunion' builds to a frenzy

Anyone who has seen "That Championship Season" will experience a frame of reference in South Coast Repertory's new production, the world premiere of Gregory S Moss' powerful and provocative "Reunion."

While it pales in comparison to Jason Miller's Pulitzer Prize winner of four decades ago, "Reunion" is a throbbing assault on the psyche as it steers its characters (three rather than five) through the travails of forced merriment as the trio of graduates from 25 years before reconnect in the same motel room where they celebrated their commencement. You wouldn't want to be the maid cleaning things up the next day.

Peter (Kevin Berntson), Max (Michael Gladis) and Mitch (Tim Cummings) were inseparable buddies back in the day. Now their once-buried antagonism spills over, fueled by booze and memory as they rekindle both their amity and their enmity.

Outrageous humor, backed by a godawful heavy metal music score, punctuates this confrontational catharsis as the three revert to boyhood nicknames (Petie, Maxie, Mitchie) for their uber-emotional showdown, richly directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt.

Peter, now happily married and celebrating the recent birth of his third child, appears to be the most mature and rational of the three. As such, he's something of a thorn in the side of the others. Max is a recovering alcoholic, now divorced, while perennial bachelor Mitch still lives in his boyhood home, though his father is dead and his mother has relocated to Florida, where she apparently has rediscovered her lost libido.

Cummings' Mitch doesn't just steal the spotlight, he hijacks it, taking no prisoners. Channeling the rough-hewn comic Andrew Dice Clay, he insinuates himself into his boyhood bully persona with the macho fervor of an Army drill sergeant. Cummings is the strongest and most vital presence on stage, though sometimes his profane power is unsettling.

Berntson projects Cummings' opposite, a man who has made something of his life and is dedicated to his wife and children. He also is the smallest of the trio, and as such the butt of much of the play's physical humor — being buried under a mattress and duct-taped to the bathroom door, for instance.

The third member of the group, Gladis' soft-spoken Max, is the most uncomfortable of the lot. He falls off the wagon after refusing to drink toasts with the others, and once laced with alcohol, becomes as boisterous as his buddies, though never as blatantly so as Mitch.

Moss delves into the inner torments of each of his characters, some of which ring truer than others. Each actor has his showcase moment, which is projected with skill and sensitivity.

Scenic designer Sibyl Wickersheimer's seedy motel room setting is ideal for the play's wild and raucous action. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz has designed some splendid costumes, principally Cummings' tuxedo shirt, which he wears with casual garments.

Lighting, designed by Elizabeth Harper, is quite effective. As for M.L. Dogg's ear-splitting sound design, it's simply overkill at full volume.

"Reunion" is a throbbing testament to lost hopes and broken dreams under the guise of celebratory comradeship. It's a powerful, attention-demanding world premiere production at South Coast Repertory.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Reunion"

Where: South Coast Repertory, Julianne Argyros Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 7:45 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 7:45 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Cost: Tickets start at $22

Information: (714) 708-5555 or http://www.scr.org

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