Convincing acting in Emerson festival play suggests theme of repression

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Photos by Nina Goodheart

The set was minimal, consisting only of a couch with disorganized kids toys and two restaurant tables. The cast consisted of just nine people, and the show lasted only 35 minutes. Within these constraints, the actors managed to establish memorable characters and interesting relationships between them, which were used to create plenty of comedy that kept the audience laughing from start to finish.

This year’s Emerson Festival play was Marriage on the Rocks, an exploration of three different but equally dysfunctional marriages. It is based on Alan Ayckbourn’s 1973 British play Confusions and adapted by student director senior Tova Rubenoff to be more modern.

The story focuses on Lucy Compton (Talia Putnoi), an overworked mother of two who treats adults exactly like her young children, which ends up helping the relationship between her neighbors Rosemary (Kako Yamada) and Terry Oates (Trevor LaSalvia). Later, Lucy and her husband Harry (Harry Kalish) are having dinner next to Polly (Alexandra Dennis) and Martin Pearce (Matthew Morgan), when it comes to light that Harry and Polly have been having an affair.

Although the play derived a lot of humor from exaggerated personalities and extraordinarily awkward situations, much of the appeal of the production came from the believability the actors brought to their roles, even with the added difficulty of playing characters  nowhere near their own age. In fact, the chemistry between senior Harry Kalish as Harry Compton and senior Alexandra Dennis as Polly Pearce was so unexpectedly realistic that there was almost a tension in the air when they kissed.

The most striking performance, however, was by sophomore Talia Putnoi as Lucy Compton. Putnoi’s mannerisms effectively conveyed the neuroticism of a mother pushed to her limit, too busy to change out of her pajamas or even leave the house for the past few days, repetitively folding and refolding a blanket for the majority of the first scene. But she still exhibits the denial and strength of someone who is desperately trying to manage her life as it falls apart, and she works amazingly as a flawed but likeable lead.

Despite the general lighthearted tone of the play, there are still darker topics that emerge. Men make idiotic, sexist speeches, and several of the characters appear to be alcoholics. This makes the play more thought-provoking, and it seems to suggest an overarching theme of repression that inevitably occurs from growing up. All of the adult characters are trapped in situations they cannot control, whether it be their unfortunate marriages, parenthood, their jobs or their gender. No one is secure in their role, and they all find dysfunctional coping mechanisms, alcohol being a notable one. It is only the children who get to be carefree, and at some point, Rosemary and Terry are manipulated into acting like children, which incidentally helps them solve an argument when they obey Lucy.

Of course, if this is the message the play tries to get across, it is an afterthought compared to the play’s main purpose, which is to entertain. Luckily, the play accomplishes this well. At the end, when Harry and Martin are left by their wives and end up going out for a drink together, the audience, if anything, wishes for a little more from the characters they have grown to both hate and love.

Mairin Quillen can be contacted at

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