Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis
To nail the incoherent ramblings of four blue-collar workers in a small British town in 1979, Mike Leigh started with a series of improvised scenes. The result, Ecstasy, is a tight play about the central warmth of friendship despite life’s inevitable obstacles. Talk of babies, divorce, outsourced employment, and astronomical rents ping-pong across the stage against the backdrop of the bleakest of winters. Part tragic comedy and part kitchen-sink realism, this play has no room for error—even less considering the small stage adaptation by Black Door Theatre Company. Thankfully, director Sara Laudonia creates a haven out of the single setting for these happy-go-lucky characters. For at least one night, they get by okay.
It’s Friday night and all the pubs have closed, so four friends stumble into one of their flats to continue the party. Their simultaneous conversations weave into the script without ego or agenda. As dialogue overlaps or gets interrupted, characters get up to refill each other’s drink and then plop down somewhere else. Memories of riding on motorcycles with strange boys surface and then bleed into the speculation of a movie icon’s drug overdose. These folks have a past. They have dreams. Even more extraordinary, they have full disclosure with each other. Well, for the most part. Mr. Leigh adds to the verbal frenzy with a physical one: the flat belongs to a boarding house with a communal loo offstage. As characters enter and exit to “bleed the lizard” throughout the night, those remaining lose no time delving into personal details. Like with all good gossip, the audience feels included and naughty at the same time. And as quickly as the dirt surfaces, it gets swept under the rug again seconds later, a testament to the snappy script and Ms. Laudonia’s spot-on interpretation.
The smart shift in dialogue soars from celebratory to wistful to downtrodden and chugs back up again. Dawn (Gina LeMoine) and the father of her children, her husband Mick (Brandon McCluskey), have a similar dynamic in their relationship. Swooning like newlyweds one minute and chiding each other like geysers the next, they grow more animated with each lager. It’s so well-acted and directed that the smallest details, like Dawn being too drunk to buckle her heels, form an endearing tragedy. Establishing the mood further are the bittersweet croons of Dolly Parton and Elvis from the record player downstage.
Much of this precision can be attributed to the visionary Ms. Laudonia, an obvious veteran of small-scale theater. She doesn’t gloss over anything—dialect coach Page Clemens avoids the sloppy, generic, one-size-fits-all accent by tracing each character to a specific region (like northern England and southern Ireland) and set designer Damon Pelletier uses specific objects and colors (like an afghan blanket or Day-Glo orange accents) to create a lived-in representation of the 70s. The same emphasis goes toward even the supporting actors, like Lore Davis, who have only one scene to make it count. As Val, the rightfully jealous wife of adulterous Roy (Josh Marcantel), she chases her man into each corner of the stage with the utmost rage and frustration. She may only be in the scene for three minutes, but that’s all she needs.
Ecstasy is literally the state of overwhelming emotion and rapturous delight. The four lives surrounding Mike Leigh’s gritty drama may be an unexpected place to uncover such an emotion. But after spending a night with them and hearing their stories, their tenacious optimism ignites that rapturous delight in all of us.-------------------------------------------
Ecstasy (2 hours; no intermission)
The Red Room (85 East 4th Street, 3rd Floor)
Tickets [www.smarttix.com]: $18
Performances (through 1/25): Thurs. - Sat. @ 8 | Sun. @ 3