As someone says toward the end of this intriguing social-study kitchen-sink drama, it’s easy to get along with people you don’t deal with every day, who don’t know you inside out and can make you feel terrible with just a look.
There are plenty of knowing glances and averted eyes in Kevin Broccoli’s The House in Providence, at Mixed Magic Theatre (through June 30). The premiere by the artistic director of Epic Theatre Company is being skillfully directed by Jonathan Pitts-Wiley.
This is quite a busy three-ring circus to ringmaster, with four house residents, two guests, and another two neighbor friends who keep dropping in.
The center of the storm is Victor (James Shelton), who is working himself to a frazzle as a security guard as well as with part-time jobs to pay the bills for the extended family under this roof. May (Amy Thompson), who does her part by cooking and cleaning for the lot of them, thinks that he drinks too much. That’s understood rather than frowned upon here, with a neighbor doctor, Arnold (Johnny Cicco), admitting that “I do my best work drunk.”
Lately Dr. Arnold has been showing up frequently to take care of one of the guests passing through, elderly Frank (Bill Pett), the patriarch who used to live there, who thinks he is dying. After his wife died, he married her nurse, Gina (Hannah Lum), with whom he’d been having an affair, so it’s awkward for his daughter, Sarah (Kerissa Roderick), to have her around. Gina is a babe; both Arnold and Victor make moves on her, adding to the tension. A second neighbor, Tony (Ross Gavlin), is an extraneous character who contributes only a small plot function in the second act.
As far as the acting quality goes, the standards are high here, with nuanced work by Shelton and Lum, and Pett’s Arnold establishes just the right expansive personality.
After the controlled chaos of the first act, the second begins as a kind of calm after a storm, in which there is time to reflect. At the opening, Victor’s mother, Vivian (Mary Paolino), is sitting at her usual place at the kitchen table, addressing us. Arnold is the romantic and Victor the cynic, as Arnold earlier said, but Vivian could give cynicism lessons to the paranoid. “Everybody you ever met in your life is going to let you down,” she says. When her son was born, she tells us, she looked down, said “Wow!” and then observed that he was going to break her heart.
This dark attitude is soon balanced in a very subtle way by Gina, unintentionally, as she demonstrates an interesting psychological response. She says that when she was 12 and her father died, her mother took to bed and never got up, leaving her to take care of her siblings. But a few minutes later she adds, with earnest emphasis, that her mother was an angel. People save themselves, and others, in peculiar ways.