‘This’ at Round House Theatre Bethesda by David Friscic

This is hardly an all-encompassing title to accurately convey the many, myriad machinations at work in Melissa Jane Gibson’s thought-provoking and complex play-now an outstanding and stimulating production at Round House Theatre in Bethesda. The serious issues dealt with in this play are presented underneath layers of wit and language wordplay that convey how the everyday humdrum rhythms of everyday life serve only to obscure the real pain of life individuals must contend with.

Lise Bruneau (Jane), Felicia Curry (Marrell), Will Gartshore (Jean-Pierre), and Michael Glenn (Alan). Photo by Danisha Crosby.
Lise Bruneau (Jane), Felicia Curry (Marrell), Will Gartshore (Jean-Pierre), and Michael Glenn (Alan). Photo by Danisha Crosby.

With Round House Producing Artistic Director Ryan Rilette at the helm (assisted by Assistant Director Rachel Zampelli) as Director, all elements of acting, technical components, and dramaturgical clarity are firmly in expert hands during the absorbing ninety minutes of this play. The compressed running time of this production, indeed, helps to focus on the intertwining and overlapping relationships of the five characters in this intimate ensemble piece. The quirky yet enigmatic characters in this play circle around each other with digressions on semantics, personality quirks, and morality while never escaping the irreducible fact that adultery, death and the attempt at human connection are the themes of this play. The influence of Chekhov and, especially, Edward Albee are apparent although Gilbert’s mark seems much more accessible to all demographics.

Like the absolutely stunning yet somewhat stark revolving mottled-blue set designed by James Kronzer, Director Rilette paces his actors through a fluid and deftly executed succession of vignettes on the human condition in all its hubris, sarcasm, contrivance, and hypocrisy. Designer Kronzer accentuates the inter-connections of the actors by dividing his revolving set into a series of compartmentalized sections that can appear or disappear at a moment’s notice; particularly impressive is the appearance of an adjoining section of the set that presents a nightclub lounge replete with grand piano and sensuously lit by Lighting Designer Daniel MacLean Wagner.

Though plot dynamics are vital the are not nearly as important as the style in which they are presented, the wordplay utilized, and the peculiar eccentricities of human nature so ably evoked by Rilette and the cast from Gibson’s audacious play. The interspersed highly-haunting Original Music by Peter Eldridge and the Original Score/Arrangements/Sound Design by Eric Shimelonis adds immeasurably to this “tone poem” of a play.

The nuanced complexity of tone shifts that are required for this piece of theatre to be effective demands split-second timing and acting that appears unstudied, spontaneous, and authentic Luckily, this is a cast that is up to these demands. The charismatic standout in this production is the charming yet direct performance of Felicia Curry (Marrell). Curry has two poignant knockout moments singing at the piano and she anchors the play with her beautifully modulated speaking voice and natural movements. Her Marrell is alternately vulnerable and strong and it is hard to take your eyes off of her whenever she is on stage. Her bantering with her husband and somewhat neurotic friends hit just the right note of outrage, yet affection. Curry has a protean talent and one feels she could play almost any character in the repertory. Michael Glenn (Alan) scores as her very talkative and overly introspective friend – Glenn is so perfectly cast that he very appropriately gets on your nerves until you realize that is exactly what he is supposed to do. Glenn’s commentary on everything that occurs is hilariously dithering, peculiar and, yet – somehow endearing. As the visiting continental Frenchman, Will Gartshore (Jean-Pierre) creates a comic yet subtle character complete with the requisite slow burn, consummate timing and supremely confident stage presence that is a sheer joy to watch; it is a polished jewel of a performance that adds a refreshing contrast to the other more dour interactions.

As the poet who is grieving for her late husband and trying to cope, Lise Bruneau (Jane) has some marvelous stage moments as when she attempts to reveal her indiscretion to Marrell and when she utters various pronouncements out-of-the-blue to the astonishment of her friends. As the adulterous husband, Todd Scofield (Tom) projects confidence and authority in his character.

Felicia Curry (Marrell). Photo by Danisha Crosby.
Felicia Curry (Marrell). Photo by Danisha Crosby.

Bravos all around to the Costume Design by Ivania Stack, Associate Scenic Designer Jeremy W. Foil, and Dramaturg Brent Stansell. Indeed, it must not have been an easy task to explicate this complex text.

Round House Theatre can truly be commended in tackling this ambitious play which explores such tricky themes as what is real in the exercise of our everyday lives, and if it is more important that we feel more comfortable with ourselves first or with those we interact with. The eternal philosophical testing of what we perceive as truth versus what is real is definitely brought out in this play.

This is a play that should be seen now!


This plays through November 3, 2013 at Round House Theatre – 4545 East-West Highway, in Bethesda. MD. For tickets, call the box office at (240) 644-1100, or purchase them online.

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David Friscic
David has always had a passionate interest in the arts from acting in professional dinner theatre and community theatre to reviewing film and local theatre in college to making numerous treks to New York City to indulge his interest in live theatre. An enthusiastic interest in writing has shown itself in a BA in English/Education and an MA in English Literature. Taken together, these two interests have culminated in the logical conclusion of writing for an arts blog. David moved up and down the East Coast due to his father's job at General Electric and this has helped him to perceive the world in a very open way. After his schooling, David taught in Catholic school systems for awhile and, then, spent three years in the seminary with two years at Catholic University studying Theology and one year in a practicuum working at a church in New York State. David currently works at the National Science Foundation as a Technical Information Specialist for the Office of Polar Programs and has had the great opportunity to go to Antarctica twice and Greenland once in support of the research community. He enjoys living in Bethesda and has taken courses at the Writer's Center. David enjoys swimming, traveling, reading, and working on committees at his condo. His major interest, however, is the arts and all it encompasses---from symphony, to film, to museum treks to live theatre. He counts having lunch with Lillian Gish and meeting Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Liza Minnelli and Sandy Dennis as some of the more exciting encounters of his life.


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