Women at a turning point in Town Players of Pittsfield's "Win/Lose/Draw"

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PITTSFIELD — On the surface, there is not much that links the three plays — "Little Miss Fresno," "Final Placement" and "Chocolate Cake" — that make up "Win/Lose/Draw," a collaboration by Ara Watson and Mary Gallagher that is being given a less-than-fulfilling production by Town Players of Pittsfield.

What does bind them is a series of situations in which two women, temperamentally opposed, find themselves at something of a turning point.

In the opener, "Little Miss Fresno," two mothers with vested interests in the semi-final round of a kids' beauty pageant, wait with varying degrees of anticipation for the judges' decision regarding who will advance to the finals.

Ginger Khabacki (Mae Rogers) and her daughter, Amber, have been traveling this road since Amber was three and I suspect we know a lot about Amber from her entitled, judgmental mother, who likely has a bit more snide edge and bite than Rogers gives her. For her part, Doris Nettles (played by Diedre Bollinger with a kind of manic self-consciousness) is more down-to-earth and naive (or is she?) as her daughter, Ashley, competes in her first contest.

Rogers nor Bollinger each just miss the kind of emotional definition and nuance that gives "Little Miss Fresno" its sense of comedic irony.

"Chocolate Cake," the third play in this triptych, finds two women who are attending a women's conference in a small town in Western Massachusetts bonding in the motel room of one of them — Annemarie Fitzer (Dana Greib), who, in fact, lives with her husband in the town in which the conference is taking place. Rather than go home at night, between sessions, Annemarie is content to find refuge in a room of her own at the conference's motel, where she is planning an assignation with her illicit lover — a handsome, rich chocolate cake.

Annemarie has food issues which she is trying to overcome but with only modest success at best. Delia Baron (Jackie DiGiorgis) is a brash woman of means who lives in New York with a husband who, she says, spends as much time, if not more, in New Jersey than at home. She, too, has food issues. More than that, Delia is gregarious to a fault; intrusive, self-centered, bearing a sense of entitlement. But she also is needy and as lonely and adrift in her marriage as Annemarie is in hers.

The actress' timing is rough and awkward but DiGiorgis and Greib hold their own and find some truth and authenticity in the process.

In terms of drama, "Final Placement," the middle play, is the richest and, for actresses, the most stimulating and rewarding. All the more unfortunate, then, that Rogers and Bollinger overplay their hands.

Rogers plays a hard-luck woman, Luellen James, in a horribly abusive relationship that has exacted a horrifying toll on her son, who has been taken from her and placed in a foster home with a couple who are preparing to adopt the boy.

On a sweltering, hot day, Luellen James has walked 10 miles from her apartment to the office of her former caseworker, Mary Hanson (Bollinger), just as she is getting ready to go home. Luellen's aim is to get her son back. She uses every emotional trick she knows; every excuse, every justification, every promise and pledge to clean up her act in an effort to persuade Hanson to intercede on her behalf.

Rogers works Luellen's emotional territory with an awkward obviousness. You can see not only Luellen's thought processes at work but the actress' as well.

Bollinger applies a thick layer of manic energy to her portrayal Mary, whose patience and professionalism are being tested to the limits. As much as Watson, who wrote this piece, means for us to look at Luellen's manipulative nature, she also is interested here in the effect on a caseworker who nhas seen first hand, to her horror, the effect of Luellen's, and her partner, Ray's abuse, to the point that she is pushed to the professional edge. There is a compelling, layered dynamic to this play. Rogers and Bollinger leave far too much meat on this bone.

In the end, overall, more "draw" than "win" or "lose."

THEATER REVIEW

What: "Win/Lose/Draw" by Ara Watson and Mary Gallagher. Directed by Melanie Rivers

With: Mae Rogers, Diedre Bollinger, Dana Greib, Jackie DeGiorgis

Who: Town Players of Pittsfield

When: Through Saturday. Evenings — Tonight and Saturday at 8

Where: Whitney Center for the Arts, 42 Wendell Ave., Pittsfield

Tickets: $10-$15

How: (413) 443-9279; townplayers.org; at the door


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