Winning Performances Boost Comic ‘Wintertime’

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Too many passions cramped in small spaces often cause matters to explode with a greater intensity. Such is the case in Charles L. Mee’s comedy “Wintertime”, presented by the UC Berkeley Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies. In the play, a son, a mother, a father and their respective lovers each decide to take a wintry retreat at the family cabin. But unwittingly, they each choose the same weekend. What follows is a descent into a maelstrom of wild accusations, jealousies and physical contentions.

Directed by Charlotte McIvor and Kelly Rafferty, the show opens to an admittedly beautiful set decked out in white. The living room of the cabin takes center stage, behind it stands a full-length window allowing a view of slowly falling snow. Stage-to-ceiling white-trunked trees encircle the scene and projections of trees light up the walls of the theater. The opening scene as a whole evokes a sense of peaceful solitude, a solitude that is soon disrupted by the outrageous encounters of the entangled lovers.

Enter young Jonathan and his effusive girlfriend, Ariel, who wastes no time in waxing poetic on the cabin’s beauty. Ariel’s ramblings and Jonathan’s syrupy admonitions make their relationship seem a bit hackneyed. It is possible this treatment of the roles is meant to emphasize the couple’s naivete, but even then it is a little irksome.

Jonathan and Ariel’s tender moment is soon cast asunder by the entrance of none other than Jonathan’s negligee-adorned mother, Maria, and her French paramour, Francois, who have also coincidentally decided to “use” the cabin for the weekend. Moments later Jonathan’s father Frank appears at the door, but not without his gay lover Edmond close behind. The ensuing mayhem results in the degeneration of the people onstage into the “social animals” which playwright Mee believes them to be. The play itself is dotted with references to philosophy, such as the entrance of a deliveryman who is surprisingly knowledgeable about Greek Classics, wittily played by Daniel Desmarais.

Central to the show was the indefatigable physical comedy and the often brilliant timing. In one scene, a door on wheels is produced in the center of the scene, and each character takes a turn venting their frustration by slamming it, watching each other slam it, and slamming it in each other’s faces. Expert blocking makes this scene marvelous—the boisterous interplay between characters that are at each other’s throats is all at once raging and riotous.

Strong individual performances throughout the cast pull the show together even as the lives of the characters fall apart. Tanmay Dhanania’s take on the appropriately greasy, pillow-pounding, strip-teasing Francois is side-splitting. Though his thick French accent is a bit difficult to decipher, it effectively magnifies the hilarity of each syllable he pronounces. Robert Bergin’s stodgy Frank provides an excellent foil to Francois’ absurdity. Memorable too is the vivacious verbal and facial commentary of Emily Rose Meade’s Maria.

It is possible to view this play simply as an instance of stereotypes playing off of each other—the meek father, the liberated mother, the mild gay man, the young lovebird and, of course, the nymphomaniac Frenchman. But the show is well done, and it comes together as an entertaining look at how people with inexorably intertwined lives implode upon each other. In “Wintertime,” good acting, spot-on direction and comic antics coalesce into a gloriously funny whirlwind of hurled plates, ripped up pillows, spurned clothing, broken loves and renewed relationships.

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