Saturday, June 12, 2010

Audiences Feel 'Splendid Misery'

By Deardra Shuler
Photo by Charles Rogers

“Splendid Misery” written by Robert Riemer, directed by ZJ (Zombie Joe) and produced by Fire Cat Productions takes place on a hot summer day in Queens, NY. It is the story of a couple who despite the boiling summer heat finds their love has grown cold. But it is the wife, Nina, played by Kathy Buterbaugh, who is the one to leave. She leaves with someone she has known since high school in the hopes of finding love anew. Her husband Gary (Dan Odell) is simply befuddled since this news comes unexpectedly and he is now left to care for his 13 year old daughter Annie (Jacqueline Raymond) alone. Gary has not stoked the ambers of love for some time. He is the type of man who doesn't recognize there is a fire until the house burns down. Thus, he never recognized Nina's discontent or that she was having an affair under his nose until she packs her bags and leaves. Even then, Gary demonstrates ambivalence. Splendid Misery ran at the Actors Temple Theater located at 339 West 47th Street in Manhattan until Sunday, March 21st.

Splendid Misery is a human play. We see the foibles, levity and vulnerabilities that are part of the human experience. Relationships evolve throughout the course of the play but much is left to the audience to determine how these emotional connections between this group of misfits will ultimately end up.

Gary is an average guy who lives a mediocre life. He is satisfied to be a competent musician while telling himself he should be playing in an orchestra. However, when the opportunity presents itself he declines, afraid he isn't good enough. So, he is content to live in the cramped apartment and the tiny space he has created for himself in life, happy to dream for the sake of dreaming alone. And there is comfort in the life he has created, thus he is not prepared when his well orchestrated comfort zone is challenged.

The play moves the audience along when Alaina ( portrayed by Denise L. Devine), comes to visit Nina with her daughter Star (Margaret Ying Drake) in the hopes of escaping the sweltering heat and enjoying the comfort of Nina's AC, only to learn that Nina is dissolving her marriage. The dynamics take place once Nina leaves. Alaina attempts to comfort Gary and help him pick up some of the shattered pieces. Something Alaina has become expert in doing with several different men.

Alaina is a survivor. She does not judge Nina for trying to snatch a piece of love for herself. Alaina, herself, has been playing on the vulnerability of men for years. In fact, she only settled for her ex-husband Jim (Steve DeVito) when she couldn't find true love. After some jail time and soul searching, Jim comes back into Alaina's life under the expectation he will continue where he left off. But Alaina thwarts that plan. She sees herself as a source of comfort for men who can't find love at home, purposely setting herself up as a temporary harbor in the storm as she does with Carl (Marc Gettis) another of the married men Alaina lives off. To Alaina, men are commodities, the weaker sex, desperate to be loved and admired, needy and wanting to be needed. Alaina loves men but never allows herself to be in love with them. She seduces but never abuses. She sees herself as a practical woman who knows married men wont leave their wives for her but at least for a little while she can be their anchor and they her bill payers.

Star, Alaina's daughter, is starting to emulate her mother and take on some of the same mindsets as her mother. This presents a quandary for Alaina who deep down longs for the security she is to afraid to grasp for herself. She is tiring of her revolving door lifestyle. In Nina's departure from her marriage, Alaina sees an opportunity for a second chance in life. An opportunity to bring stability into her life and into her daughter's life. She flirts with Gary, testing the waters to see if Gary is attracted to her.

Having established himself initially as a painter and sculptor, in the last 3 years, Robert Riemer turned to writing. To date, he has written 12 plays, including “Splendid Misery.” “The characters in “Splendid Misery” are patterned after people I've known. Of course, I have taken theatrical license and exaggerated the characters. However, I have a philosophy that people are all of the same mind. We do things we don't understand and then find others have done the same thing. I want my audience to recognize that what I have written is real life. I would like to think that people watching the production would see something of themselves or people they know in my characters,” said Mr. Riemer.

“I think Splendid Misery is the best title for this play. It describes love to a tee. Its splendid and miserable all at the same time and sometimes its hard to know which one is which,” remarked actress Denise L. Devine about the play and the role she portrays. “Robert has a great way of writing that allows the actors and audience to navigate through the story and understand why the characters behave the way they do.”

There is oftentimes a bit of splendid misery when bringing a production before the public since there are always costs and glitches involved. Thus, Splendid Misery planned for a short run but was able to draw an audience during its sojourn which only sets the stage for the next Fire Cat Production that will involve children. Stay tuned.

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