Thursday August 16, 2012

STOCKBRIDGE -- Noel and Anne, the married couple at the center of William Donnelly's gentle new play, "Homestead Crossing," have, if not settled into their marriage of so many years, found accommodation.

As "Homestead Crossing" begins, Noel (David Adkins in the equally gentle world premiere Donnelly's play is having at Berkshire Theatre Group's Unicorn Theatre) is sitting in an armchair in his living room, reading history. Anne (Corinna May) enters and, after briefly addressing her husband, looks through the living room window at the steadily falling rain outside and cracks a joke -- "better get out the gopher wood" -- to which Noel is unresponsive.

It's not an errant reference. Anne has plucked the line from Genesis -- the flood, which God visited upon the world to wipe it clean and pose a fresh start.

"Homestead Crossing" is very much about starting over; about the assumptions that sustain our relationships and what happens when those assumptions are questioned. It's a play about connecting and reconnecting; about rites of passage and moving on, even in early middle age.

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Clearly, Anne and Noel have made a comfortable life for themselves -- literate (floor-to-wall bookshelves line one side of their spacious living room and they each use words with smooth unassuming poise, confidence and certainty); a life of, if not social isolation, then certainly seclusion, even if they do live at the end of a cul-de-sac in an affluent upper middle-class community.


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That seclusion is broken when two young people, a couple, Claudia (Lesley Shires) and, later, her boyfriend, Tobin (Ross Cowan) intrude on the household -- at Anne's willingness. For Noel, Claudia and Tobin's arrival raises his anxiety level as he anticipates the worst possible scenario.

"Homestead Crossing" is about the love between two familiars in a long-term relationship who understand, often without explanantion to one another, what is, or isn't, at stake at any given moment.

Donnelly's writing is as notable for what isn't said as it is for what is said; for paths that are not taken as much as for paths that are.

As Anne and Noel, May and Adkins expertly, and seamlessly, mine the rich nuances in the subtext of Donnelly's dialogue. There is an easy-seeming flow of intellectual and emotional ideas between them that is engaging and compelling.

Shires and Cowan follow suit as an appealingly enigmatic young couple whose negotiations over terms of a relationship lead to a natural, if unexpected, resolution as four lives come full circle on a quiet rainy day.