Editor’s note: We are reposting this review because the last performance of Professor Roth’s Will is this Sunday, Jan. 22 and tickets are still available.
Professor Roth’s Will
The Driftwood Players at
Wade James Theatre
950 Main St.
Wade James Theatre filled slowly and steadily last night as patrons of The Driftwood Players and fans of a well-rehearsed cast filed in for opening night of Joe Starzyk’s Professor Roth’s Will – which runs through Sunday, Jan. 22.
A Theatre of Intriguing Possibilities (TIPs) production, Professor Roth’s Will was selected by the executive producer of TIPs, Diane Jamieson, for “its relevance to topical issues.”
In an exclusive interview with My Edmonds News last week, Jamieson admits that she “wants audiences to walk out of the show discussing it and having a range of opinions about the issues and characters.”
Mission accomplished, in that case.
Fair warning that Professor Roth’s Will is gritty, emotionally brutal and thought provoking. In this work, Starzyk unpeels the pretense of familial niceties and bludgeons the audience with the after effects of emotionally cold parenting, revelation of shattering family secrets, and not-so-funny one liners about the baby of the family being the “accidental child.”
Four adult children, each damaged in their own way from years of abuse and neglect at the hands of a now-deceased professor, gather at the behest of one of their father’s faculty colleagues for the reading of his will.
Emotions simmer, are stirred by intended and unintended zingers, and reach a boiling point in an arcing moment of gun play that devolves into heartbreaking honesty.
Jamieson reveals, “When the cast and creative team were having the first read-through and table talk, it was apparent that the issue of growing up in a dysfunctional family directly affected so many of us. There are a myriad of reasons a family can be dysfunctional, but two of the primary ones are addiction (alcoholism) and mental illness (including personality disorder). Professor Roth and his wife suffered from these effects.”
The cast that Jamieson refers to includes Simone Barron (as eldest daughter, Mary Roth); Sarita Benson (as Gwen Roth); Thomas A. Glass (older brother Thomas Roth); and Jason Conner as the youngest of the Roth siblings (the “baby” of the family).
Melody Mistlin plays Professor Goodman, whom it should be noted is on the Wade James boards in her 11th production. Rita Baxter has been cast as Dahlia Roth (the Professor’s wife)/woman; Tim Platt, whose role according to the program is “man” and is appearing for the first time on The Players stage. Playing the part as the university’s janitor and also acting as assistant stage manager for the production, Richard Morris returns to the Players from a long hiatus, and we are happy to see him crossing the Wade James stage once more.
Professor Roth’s Will is unflinching drama in the same sense as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Selected by Jamieson for inclusion in the Players’ 58th season, it caught her attention because, “As a psychologist, [she] was particularly drawn to the issue of how mental illness (obsessive compulsive personality disorder) can result in each of the Roth children finding their own way of coping with their disordered parent, and how powerful this had been in forming their own personality and in informing their life choices. This show spells it out quite accurately.
She also adds, “Joe [Starzyk] is an excellent writer. I produced one of his Shorts a couple of years ago (Swinging Christmas), and find that he does his research and is able to communicate the topic in an entirely believable way!”
Production director Justin Tinsley tells audiences that Professor Roth’s Will “has been a labor of love” for everyone involved — including himself. Tinsley captures the complexity of the play in his admission that he was “captivated immediately by the sheer diversity and layers that the four siblings portray.”
A series of “Shout Outs” go to Faye Mattingly for precise costuming choices, Rob Falk for the amazing lighting transitions, and Rick Wright for perfectly synchronized sound design.
As has become the practice, Artfully Edmonds would like to draw attention to the cast member who, in our opinion, offered a performance that was skillful, spell-binding and which elicited direct understand of the depth of the subject matter.
Jason Conner comes away with the opening night Tony. His skill at mastering the physical ticks, the mannerisms and the toll of being the “family baby” was gut-wrenching in its portrayal and realism.
For those ready for explosive provocative drama – Professor Roth’s Will could easily be this season’s most significant choice. We expect that this production will catch the attention of dramatists from Seattle to Everett.
My Edmonds News and Artfully Edmonds congratulates TIPs on its choice of adding Starzyk’s Professor Roth’s Will to this season’s line-up.
Tonight’s curtain raises at 8 p.m. You can reach the box office at 425-774-9600 or go online to grab your set of tickets at www.edmondsdriftwoodplayers.org.
–- By Emily Hill