By Laura Ekstrand and Jason Szamreta
Through Sunday, Feb. 25
Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre
Oakes Center, 120 Morris Ave., Summit
By GWEN OREL
“What Stays” has a premise many people can relate to.
A matriarch is packing up the family house. She’s moving.
Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre Company’s new play, by Laura Ekstrand and Jason Szamreta, is set in a Victorian house in Montclair, 2014 (why four years ago I’m not sure).
Ekstrand and Szamreta are both company members of the ensemble: in fact, Ekstrand, who also performs, is its artistic director
According to the program, “What Stays” was inspired by company members sharing stories about their lives.
And parents’ having lives of their own and moving on is something lots of people can relate to.
Despite some warm performances, the play feels like a work in progress.
Drama must happen before our eyes: nothing stops the action of a play like “remember when.” The playwrights set themselves a difficult task, and they don’t always succeed. Even Arthur Miller, in Act One of “The Price,” has a hard time (though it becomes explosive in Act II).
In “What Stays,” characters often talk about what they’re packing up, the past, or about another character, with little at stake in the moment.
While it’s daring these days to go for a cast of eight, it’s tough to keep everyone straight..
Just as we’ve gotten used to matriarch Dorothy (likable Noreen Farley) and stressed Susan (natural, charismatic Ekstrand), we get, in short succession, Karen (Nicole Callender, angry and snarky); Michael (Scott McGowan) and Charles (Harry Patrick Christian). Then come the second, younger wife, June (Harriett Trangucci), her daughter, Emma (natural, likable Brianna Kalisch), and Emma’s boyfriend, Graham (Christopher John Young).
For a solid half hour one busily tries to figure out who is who, helped by clumsy lines like “you moved way the Hell out to Denver.”
Keeping action moving with all those characters is a challenge, too, and despite a handsome unit set (by William Ward) with different parts of the house (kitchen, attic, bedroom, etc.), sometimes scenes hold as in television, other times entrances and exits feel forced.
There’s also an unfortunate device of a Missing Journal Revealing All, which is not only dramatic, it’s melodramatic.
But when it succeeds, the play shows good bones: three adult children bonding in the attic, smoking weed and joking, charms. A botched proposal (that gets a redo), between different characters, works well.
“What Stays” is family, love, history. The play suggests that what remains when you strip out the excess is what really matters. There’s excess and detour in this play, too— as well as moments that linger.