Between Daylight and Boonville, The Oakland Press, 30th Season

Rural Drama portrays working-class life right

By: John Sousanis

The Theatre Company's "Between Daylight and Boonville", like the American classic "Picnic" (currently at the Hilberry Theatre in Detroit), is a backyard drama about women living on the periphery of a man's world, wondering where their own hopes and dreams might fit in.

As miners' wives in Indiana, the women spend their days in a trailer court, doing housework, caring for each others' children and idling away the days, while their husbands toil in an underground world, completely removed from their family's existence.

The play opens with Carla (Sarah Mertz) frantically packing and trying to gather up her daughter (Erica Green) so the two can leave town before Carla's husband returns. We quickly learn this is not the first time Carla's threatened to leave. Her friends, Marlene (Jaime Moyer), whose boys run wild through the trailer park, and Lorette (Mary Bremer), shake their heads and roll their eyes as Carla ineffectually tries to pack but never quite gets it together. They've clearly seen this routine before.

But something's different this time: Carla's packed her bags over little arguments before, but today she's unable to say what's set her off. Married as a teenager, the 24-year [old] mother feels the work of possibility closing to her with every breath she takes. She doesn't know what she wants, she's never really had a chance to form coherent dreams for her life, but she's pretty positive her current life isn't it.

Playwright Matt Williams, who co-created the "Roseanne" sitcom, imbues these working-class women with spunk and verve, respecting them enough to avoid simple stereotypes. As the women discuss their lives, Williams gives full weight to their spoken and unspoken hopes - creating characters who survive their daily struggles with at least [a] piece of their heart's desires intact.

The cast plays these characters with affection rather than affectation. Bremer, Moyer and Mertz all sport their accents from that part of the world where Midwest meets the rural South, but they never resort to shtick.

Bremer, who's carved a niche playing irascible Southern women, is perfect as the potty-mouthed, thrice-married Lorette. Basking in the second-hand glamour of classic movies on TV, Lorette nonetheless dispenses bawdy real work advice that's always good for a laugh. It's a type, perhaps, but Bremer nails it with heart and humor.

As the long-suffering Marlene, Moyer insists her character's self-respect, especially as a mother, outshines her sizeable insecurities. Similarly, Amanda Stein, as the sultry and promiscuous Wanda, goes for realism over cheap effect, while Gary Wilson's over the top [performance] as the rambunctious miner Cyril, seems to fit right into the women's world, where most of the men are still behaving like bad boys.

Mertz shines as Carla, giving in to the character's impulsiveness, running for the hills one moment and paralyzed the next. Angry and scared, Carla is terribly unhappy - yet she's quick to laugh at Lorette's jokes and to stand up for her friends in an argument. Mertz makes these mercurial changes seem as natural as a change in the wind.

"Boonville" does hit some bumps at the end, slowing down just as an accident at the mine brings the play to its emotional climax. [Williams] suddenly has his leading women giving long speeches that don't have nearly the same ring of authenticity as the simpler, earthier dialogue that's at the heart of the play's success. What's most moving about Carla is her inability to articulate what's in her heart, so it's a bit jarring when she suddenly is pouring out sophisticated monologues that sound like they are coming from a character in a Tennesee William's play.

Under the tender direction of Arthur Beer, however, the cast pilot's through the turbulence and brings "Boonville" in for a safe landing. As the characters come to terms with their lives, [Williams'] play stands as [a] funny and emotionally honest portrait of working-class life and his depiction of Carla as a woman desperate for a dream to call her own, is immediately haunting.