World premiere at PSC looks back, forward

Wait for the boom
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  November 14, 2012

YOUTH BEFORE THE FALL Homestead Crossing's generational intersect.

Middle-aged, affluent Noel (David Adkins) and Anne (Corinna May) have arrived at the "comfortable" stage of marriage. "I love you very much," he says to her when she interrupts his reading, and then, nicely: "I have nothing to say to you right now." But the cooled, comfortably quibbling nature of their relationship is called into question one rainy night, when they are visited by the soaking-wet and extremely spirited young strangers Claudia (Lesley Shires) and Tobin (Ross Cowan). In the intrusion, the couple is forced to examine who they are, who they were, and how they got from one point to the other, in William Donnelly's Homestead Crossing. This regain-the-fire boomer love story receives its world-premiere production at Portland Stage Company (after appearing in workshop form in PSC's 2011 Little Festival of the Unexpected), under the direction of Kyle Fabel.

Noel and Anne's wryly pleasant complacency is made tangible in the gorgeous, tasteful home they share (in yet another dazzling set by Anita Stewart): The high-ceilinged study of dark wood and exposed beams is appointed with olive hues and leather, jewel-toned books to the ceiling, and low, richly golden light over it all. In this study, they bicker over banalities like dinner, one's failure to laugh at another's joke, and the relative merits of fooling around. But at the edges of the conversation are hints of an ache, and likewise physically, outside their cozy affluence (to the left and right, and through tall center windows) the world is a charged, shocking, and intricately layered blue. It looks like ultramarine frost. But things aren't yet quite that chilly between Noel and Anne, and it is merely from the rain that Claudia, and then Tobin, enter their life.

Contrasting the couple's impassive respectability, Shires's Claudia is like an unpredictable, slightly shrill wild bird who has flown against their window and been taken inside. In her erratic, cheerfully cuss-laden conversation and her springy, clownish movements and gestures, she comes across almost as if she were mildly autistic. She alarms Noel, but Anne quickly warms to her; and Cowan's wide-grinning, wholly entertaining Tobin is so adorably hapless that Noel has to concede, not without affection, "I recognize myself in their ineptitude."

As the besieged and bemused couple, Adkins and May draw their increasing marital tension in broad and often comical strokes. The more Anne, won over by the young people, reverts to her own youth's amusingly crass insouciance, the more threatened and untethered Noel feels himself. A subtler moment comes once pot has been smoked, vodka downed, and the couple shares a fine, suddenly quiet moment of realization about their guests and themselves.

You don't need to be a weatherman to know which way this rainy night is going, perhaps, and Donnelly's script does traffic in some timeworn metaphors and symbols: romantic fire consumes as it warms ("You can't light ash," Noel defends himself against Claudia's admonitions about his cooled marriage); out in the back yard, a tree and vine grow into each other such that you can't kill one without killing both.

But Donnelly's writing is also intelligent, refreshingly irreverent in its humor, and laced with allusions that will be resonant to an audience of a certain age and cultural station — Exile on Main Street, Malcolm Gladwell's Blink. And the question it poses — How did we get here? — is both timeless and particularly poignant, perhaps, to a generation in middle age. The night I attended, the largely boomer crowd appreciatively rose to its feet.

HOMESTEAD CROSSING | by William Donnelly | Directed by Kyle Fabel | Produced by Portland Stage Company | through November 18 | 207.774.0465

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