The World Premiere of Beverly Cooper’s play currently playing at GCTC never quite gets off the ground and never quite lands. It’s partly due to Director Andrea Donaldson, partly the cast, but most of all the script. Artistic Director Eric Coates mentions playwright Cooper’s “. . . idea that our sense of self constantly evolves.” In Janet Wilson Miss Cooper has created a character that refuses to evolve as the world around her changes.
Set in 1969-1971, housewife Wilson is stuck in a white-glove life. She’s unable to deal with an errant husband who we never see, a rebellious teen-age daughter, Katie Ryerson in a strong and believable performance, her mother, played by an overly cantankerous and at times unintelligible Beverly Wolfe, and her American draft-dodger nephew, in a two-dimensional performance verging on caricature by Tony Adams.
Director Donaldson has Marion Day, an excellent actress, play Janet as almost a middle-aged Barbie doll, constantly aware of social niceties, always smiling and chirpy and with a flat-footed stylized walk. However in Act II she has a wonderfully touching scene with her mother. We finally get an honest and all too brief glimpse of what’s under the surface of these two women.
Roger Schultz’s set is fine and workable as are his costumes, with the exception of Janet’s first coat and second rather odd dress. Martin Conboy’s lighting is, as always, very good, but why doesn’t the refrigerator light go on when the door is opened? Thomas Ryder Payne’s sound and music are good, but rather too portentous for the flimsy script.
Playwright Cooper has thrown in every cliché of the period from flower children to women’s lib to the moon landing, many of which get easy recognition laughs. There’s even a space-suited astronaut carrying an American flag who initially appears on an upper platform making mysterious gestures in slow motion. Perhaps he’s a symbol? Nope. He reappears periodically in different places and becomes a comedic gimmick. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Director Donaldson has even used the no-longer-funny staging where Janet absent mindedly wraps and then unwraps herself in the phone cord.
We don’t care much about any of these characters, with the possible exception of Katie Ryerson’s Lily. In other words, “Janet Wilson Meets the Queen” is a play in limbo. It’s neither comedy nor drama, neither stylized nor realistic. It’s sad when a season ends “not with a bang but a whimper.”