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Theater Review: “This” at Round House Theatre

A character-driven work examines one woman’s struggle to deal with grief.

Lise Bruneau, Felicia Curry, Will Gartshore, and Michael Glenn in Round House Theatre’s current production of This. Photograph by Danisha Crosby.

This may suffer from the world’s vaguest title, but Melissa James Gibson’s character-driven play does end up taking the audience somewhere concrete.

That place is one woman’s rock-bottom moment when grappling with the untimely death of her husband. Round House Theatre’s production, directed with crisp precision by artistic director Ryan Rilette, has at its heart Jane (Lise Bruneau), a women who’s been living in an uneasy fog since her husband died a year ago. Her life is entwined with those of her three college friends, who each have kind of an extraordinary quality on paper but are drawn as flawed but relatable human beings by Gibson.

Perhaps the least sketched out (but arguably the most entertaining character) is Alan (Michael Glenn), a caustically witty man cursed with total recall and a bout of ennui about how “dinky” his life has become. There is also Marrell (Felicia Curry), a tightly wound jazz singer trying to cope with new parenthood, and her struggling artist husband, the cynical woodworker Tom (Todd Scofield). There to shake up the group’s dynamics is Jean-Pierre (Will Gartshore), a larger-than-life dashing European and a member of Doctors Without Borders, a role that becomes the butt of several zingers throughout This. His blasé reaction to the characters’ inner demons may be the play’s thesis—he may as well stingingly sum up their lives as plagued with “first-world problems.”

The play is less driven by plot than by watching these characters wrestle with guilt, infidelity, temptation, and career dissatisfaction. Throwing a man with an eidetic memory into the proceedings is a clever device—as two characters each attempt to tell versions of a story that present themselves in a better light, Alan shoots down their illusions with inarguable precision. Rilette lets Gibson’s dialogue play out rapid-fire on a swiftly rotating set that elegantly clips quickly from room to room.

Bruneau is adept at communicating the utter despair Jane finds herself eventually succumbing to as she confronts the reality of her grief. The meaty characters give each of Round House’s actors layers to work with, as Curry balances her character’s new-mother tension and frigidity with the warm, mournful persona of her jazz singer identity. As Tom, Scofield is saddled with perhaps the least sympathetic character, but he paints his choices as understandable and, in a sense, uneasily self-aware. This manages an interesting feat: It makes the audience care about each individual’s struggles while driving home the point that in the big picture, they may not really matter.

This is at Round House Theatre through November 3. Running time is about 90 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets ($10 to $45) are available via Round House Theatre’s website.

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