Zen Romance

OCT contemplates love with Who Am I This Time?

Bill Hulings and Storm Kennedy

At the North Crawford Mask & Wig Club, Central Connecticut’s finest community theater, Tom Newton is waxing philosophical on love, pure and complicated.

“The way I see it,” he notes, “love and theater have a lot in common. They’re both seductive. They both make promises they can’t always keep. And they’re both chock-full of attractive people who are maybe just a little too addicted to drama.”

Adapted from Kurt Vonnegut by Aaron Posner, Who Am I This Time? weaves together three early pieces by Vonnegut (Long Walk to Forever, Who Am I This Time? and Go Back to Your Precious Wife and Son) all on the theme of love. Posner has set them on the stage of an amateur playhouse, intertwining theater and romance in ordinary and unlikely ways.

This is not the Kurt Vonnegut you read in high school. Devoid of alien hallucinations and post-war atrocities, these stories are super sweet. Set in 1962, it really feels like 1962, a time when it could be considered a good thing to follow your heart, the right thing to take your husband back, a time when it was possible for a man to support a family installing storm windows.

The play is decidedly mild for Oregon Contemporary Theater. In that space one expects to be shocked or challenged, but not necessarily charmed. It is an unexpected and delightful way to spend an evening.

This is not to say the play lacks meaning. The “just folks” characters explore and experience love in ways that are at once real and impossible.

At its heart, this is Tom’s story, as he comes to understand his own marriage of 20 years through the passionate promise of those around him. Actor Bill Hulings is a good choice for Tom. Able and likeable, he is as sincere a narrator as you’re likely to find. Storm Kennedy is another snug fit as his wife Kate, cheerful or elegantly disdainful, she brings the emotion the moment calls for.

Brian Haimbach’s direction is clear and uncomplicated. He allows room for Pamela Lehan-Siegel to have a high time in each of her fabulous characters, be it clipped directress or fading Hollywood bombshell. Haimbach’s hand is also clear as Russell Dyball neatly balances each of the roles he takes on, one a bit of a caricature, the other requiring the building of a complex character — he is completely believable.

The unexpected left hook came from Steve Coatsworth as the uncomfortable Harry Nash. North Crawford’s greatest theatrical talent, Nash is able to understand any character, but unable to find himself.  Watching Coatsworth flip from awkward stockroom boy to Stanley Kowalski is a pleasure. He pulls it off without hamming it up.

Audience reaction was strong and positive. The structure of the play and the down-to-earth sweetness of the characters encourage applause, and even the occasional bit of talk back. It all just feels so nice, we want to join in the action.

“And so it goes …” they sing as the lights dim on their tales of love, echoing the Zen theme of Slaughterhouse Five with one of their own, shepherding us to the conclusion that love is not always what you want, love is not always what you expect, but love always is.

Who Am I This Time? (and Other Conundrums of Love) runs Nov. 8-30 at Oregon Contemporary Theatre.