Polyamorous emotions play out in ‘Fiveplay’ at Greenbelt Arts Center

The show is a fun way to consider what love and care look and feel like.

In the program, Fiveplay is described as “an affectionate look at polyamory and the modern family.” If, like me, you’re unfamiliar with the term, polyamory is “the practice of engaging in multiple romantic (and typically sexual) relationships, with the consent of all the people involved.”

I thought I’d get lost with all the coupling and threesomes in the show — how do you keep up with what’s going on with a man’s husband’s girlfriend? But the relationships were actually easy and comfortable to follow. That’s because this Maryland premiere of Fiveplay by local playwright Erica Smith and playfully directed by Rocky Nunzio gets into the heart and soul of connections between people, no matter who they love.

Jillian Blair (Emerson), Jenny Oberholtzer (Avery), Daniel Brody (Ray), Michael Angeloni (Sawyer), Nadia Palacios (Keegan), and Jim Adams (Monty) in ‘Fiveplay.’ Photo by Rachel Duda.

Jim Adams as Monty opens the show, explains terms and issues to the audience, and serves as a kind of trusted master of ceremony. The cast periodically breaks the fourth wall to provide clarification and bring the audience into the action. In the capable hands of Nunzio (who also designed sound and lighting), this technique defines particulars and works beautifully — the lighting dims into a shadowed blue, characters take stances, at one point even using music stands facing all three sides of the audience. This staging device keeps everyone engaged and aware while characters and partnerships are introduced like we’re all friends nestled on couches in their living room.

I couldn’t begin to name who’s zooming who without a graph-chart, but the couples were clear as they supported each other and a third who was connected to one of them, or both. Monty’s opening role as family leader patiently clarified who was responsible for specific chores and expectations as they prepared for a treasured event (sounds like Thanksgiving but replace Thanks with the four-letter F-word). Along the way, we find out who loves who, who yearns for who, and everything in between, including peeks into families of origin.

Here’s where the script by Erica Smith is particularly noteworthy. Definitions of poly-relationships notwithstanding, it’s the emotional commitment that counts. The show is a fun, multifaceted way to consider: what do love and care look and feel like? Monty sums it up when clarifying the importance of “ethical non-monogamy,” open communication, trust, and differentiating between emotions and behavior. When the characters’ backstories are played out in the blue shadow, the family interactions range from full acceptance and love to appalling emotional abuse. Keegan, played admirably by Nadia Palacios, is the only unpartnered “solo” in the group, but when her birth family’s digital insults crush her into a devastating spiral, the poly-group circles her with support and affection to help her make self-protective choices, even block her family if necessary. The group functions as an organic unit keeping everyone’s feelings in check while mindful of the fluid boundaries between them all.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Jillian Blair (Emerson) and Jenny Oberholtzer (Avery); Jenny Oberholtzer (Avery), Nadia Palacios (Keegan), and Michael Angeloni (Sawyer); Jillian Blair (Emerson) and Daniel Brody (‘Work’); Michael Angeloni (Sawyer) and Jim Adams (Monty) in ‘Fiveplay.’ Photos by Rachel Duda.

Keen direction by Nunzio keeps all the multilayered connections flowing, but it’s the actors’ ensemble work that shines. Daniel Brody as Ray is a hoot, nearly channeling actor Michael Urie with his sweet energetic delivery and mannerisms. Jillian Blair as Emerson is a no-nonsense bundle of strength who will launch into full-scale protector shielding her loved ones from hurtful comments. Michael Angeloni’s Sawyer and Jenny Oberholtzer as Avery are both level-headed and considerate, with reliable delivery — their characters anchor the sometimes emotional swirl that can occur despite the best intentions.

Watching everyday characters living in “ethical non-monogamous” relationships broadens understandings of attraction, commitment, and sexual expression. Fiveplay at Greenbelt Art Center is an eye-opening, intriguing look at such different ways of being. We know that everything could turn on a dime once babies and children are thrown into the mix. Maybe that can be the next play.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission .

Fiveplay plays weekends through June 15, 2024 (Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM; Sundays at 2:00 PM), at the Greenbelt Arts Center in the historic Roosevelt Community Center, located at 123 Centerway, Greenbelt, MD. Tickets ($24 General Admission; $22 Senior/Military; $12 Child/Student) may be purchased online. For more information, phone the box office at 301-441-8770 or email [email protected].

The program for Fiveplay is online here.

COVID Safety: Masks are optional.

Fiveplay

CAST
Jim Adams as Monty
Nadia Palacios as Keegan
Michael Angeloni as Sawyer
Jenny Oberholtzer as Avery
Jillian Blair as Emerson
Daniel Brody as Ray

Monty/Avery Understudy: Nessa Amherst
Keegan/Ray Understudy: Ayika Tshimanga
Sawyer/Emerson Understudy: Melissa Schick

PRODUCTION TEAM
Playwright: Erica Smith
Director: Rocky Nunzio
Stage Manager: Valerie Mikles
Intimacy Coordinator: Elle Marie Sullivan
Set: Staff, Cast, with special help by Silver Spring Stage
Costumes: Cast
Props: Staff and Cast
Sound design: Rocky Nunzio
Lighting Design: Rocky Nunzio, Mark Robinson
Assistant Stage Manager: Jenna Jones Paradis
Board Operator: Nic Adams

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