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Rodney’s Wife
by Richard Nelson
Directed by Joe Hanrahan
The Midnight Company
July 7, 2022

Kelly Howe
Photo by Joey Rumpell
The MIdnight Company

The Midnight Company’s latest production is a complex character study that features intricate plotting and an excellent showcase for six  talented local performers. Rodney’s Wife is an intriguing period piece that explores family and marital relationships, while also presenting a vivid setting and backdrop for the action. It’s a more elaborate production for this theatre company, and it’s thoroughly intriguing.

If you don’t know much about the story going in, that’s probably a good thing for this show, since the characters and situations are not what they may first appear to be in some ways, while in others ways they are exactly what you might expect. The set-up features Kelly Howe introducing the story as an unnamed character talking about her mother, Fay, and an important time in Fay’s life focused on a period spent in an Italian villa in 1962. Then, Howe takes her glasses off and becomes Fay, and the main story begins, as Fay is staying with her husband Rodney (John Wolbers) in Italy while Rodney, an actor, is filming a western film with an Italian director.  The action begins on an evening in which Rodney’s daughter from his first marriage, Lee (Summer Baer), and her new fiance, Ted (Oliver Bacus), have recently announced their engagement–to everyone except Fay, it seems. Also present is Rodney’s recently widowed sister Eva (Rachel Tibbets), who seems a little too involved in her brother’s life, to Fay’s increasingly obvious irritation. There’s also Henry, Rodney’s manager, who has a new script for Rodney to read with a great role for Rodney, but it’s filming in Los Angeles, and the various characters react to this possibility in starkly contrasting ways. There are many suggestions and hints about what’s really going on, as subtle and not so subtle reactions lead to further revelations later in the play. At the center of all this drama is Fay, who is hiding secrets of her own, and is upset about both Lee’s seemingly sudden engagement and the prospect of going back to Hollywood. I won’t add much more because the real drama here comes from the gradually unfolding plot, as well as the characters’ relationships with one another and with the secrets they keep and reveal. 

This is a drama of relationships, and there are elements of comedy along with the drama. In fact, the first act leans more toward the comic, as a portrait of “jet-setting” Hollywood people in Italy with sometimes hilariously caustic interactions between characters. Still, there’s an undercurrent of something else going on, which is revealed in the second act as the tensions explode, and all the actors play this exceptionally well. As the central character, Howe portrays the character’s complexities with credible emotional reactions, as Fay’s world is often defined by the decisions of those around her, especially the excellent Wolbers as the outwardly amiable but inwardly needy Rodney, and the superb Tibbets as the clingy, controlling Eva.  Baer, as the somewhat mysterious Lee, is also strong, as is Bacus as her affable but somewhat clueless fiance, Ted. Ritchie also lends strong support as the somewhat anxious Henry. Everyone works well together, with some especially memorable moments between Howe and Wolbers, Howe and Baer, and Wolbers and Tibbetts as the story plays out, relationships are shown for what they are, and hidden secrets are revealed.

The action is well-paced by director Hanrahan, and the set by Bess Moynihan is nothing short of remarkable. With meticulous detail, the fully realized Italian villa has been brought into the relatively small space at the Chapel. It’s easily the most elaborate set I’ve seen in this venue, and it serves as an ideal backdrop for the action, setting the mood, tone, and period style of the show. And speaking of “period style”, Liz Henning’s costumes are impressively accurate, colorful, and oh-so-early 60s chic. Along with Moynihan’s evocative lighting and some well-chosen music of the era, the mood is ideally set, adding much ambiance to the proceedings as the story plays out.

Rodney’s Wife is a show that features a lot of mature situations, and some strong language and sexual situations, so it’s for mature audiences. The drama can get intense, as well, especially in the second act, as the show explores the world of characters who aren’t always who they seem. It’s an exploration of truth, lies, artifice, and the sometimes stifling efforts to define oneself by others’ expectations. It’s a fascinating play, performed with compelling skill by the impressive cast and crew at The Midnight Company.

Oliver Bacus, Summer Baer, John Wolbers
Photo by Joey Rumpell
The Midnight Company

The Midnight Company is presenting Rodney’s Wife at the Chapel until July 23, 2022

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