Though we may have developed elaborate means of avoiding the issue, the question of how and when things might go horribly wrong seems always to be somewhere in the back of our minds.
Is this the way it must be? Or is the anxiety at least partially contrived by someone who’s either trying to sell us something or take something away from us?
Such troubling questions underlie the latest offering from the Dramatic Repertory Company, a young troupe that has established a reputation for presenting somewhat quirky theater works that provoke thought while also entertaining in offbeat ways.
Keith Reddin’s “Life During Wartime” carries a nice little love story through currents of exploitation, duplicity, fear, resentment, paranoia, violence and onstage moralizing — by no less a figure than John Calvin.
This dark comedy’s style, as directed by Keith Powell Beyland, is a bit toward the absurd but that’s a big part of what helps the play capture the madness that sometimes passes for everyday life in a complex world.
It certainly is refreshing, given the small casts of so many recent local productions, to see a play that actually employs seven actors. Indeed, it may be the variety and quality of the acting, notwithstanding the ambitions of the script, that most distinguishes this production.
Matt Delamater takes the lead role of Tom, a fledging salesman who falls for one of his first customers for the home security systems he sells. Delamater was very good at Friday’s performance in taking his character through some comically awkward situations while developing him as a sympathetic male lead as the subject matter grows more serious.
Christine Penney, as his love interest Gale, projected that sort of free-spirit-with-strings-attached persona sometimes found in older singles. She gets to debate theology and recite poetry later in the play, but it was her early scenes in romantic entanglement with Delamater that provided the best opportunity for her to reveal her talents for drawing the audience into her world.
Brian Chamberlain was very funny as Tom’s boss Heinrich, a hustler who can turn on a dime from charmer to tough guy. He’s the type of take-charge character you want to like but can’t quite do so, given his actions. His argument with Andrew Sawyer’s assertive waiter was a comic highlight.
Sawyer filled several roles, including that of Gale’s teenage son who delivers a wonderfully hyped-up monologue about a road rage incident. The youthful actor tried pretty hard to swipe just about every scene in which he appeared.
Peter Brown got to deliver a couple of unforgiving sermons as Calvin, who periodically interrupts the 1990s-era scenario with warnings from the Reformation about inescapable sin. Brown also went wild in a second role as a gun nut.
Elizabeth Lardie and Casey Turner (in a brief appearance) rounded out the cast. Lardie had her best moments bouncing lines back and forth with Chamberlain in the early going.
There’s a lot to chew on in this play, but digesting it wouldn’t be half as enjoyable if not for the way this fine cast has served it up.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.