Review: Leslie Bruce
Melissa’s Choice is a Pro-Choice play that takes the decision, and its intricate pros and cons, and lays it out in the open as a cross for all to bear.
Set in a popular Oregon campsite during early July, the play begins with Melissa, portrayed by the wonderful Jessica DiGiovanni, entering the stage and revealing her lovely opinion of the place in a quick flash of the lights; too far away from civilization. As we get to know her and her partner in crime, Tad, we begin to see the inner turmoil Melissa is faced with especially when she reveals to baby daddy Tad about their unexpected visitor. Immediately, the stakes are drawn – – Tad against having the baby and Melissa all for it.
Melissa’s Choice has the possibility of becoming a great play and seems to be in its early stages of development. Sure it’s no Hedda Gabbler killing herself but there is a connection. In this piece there are two possible suitors; one the current boy and another former love interest willing to marry her despite the baby. There are moments of pregnancy crazies as well with flashbacks that lead us into Melissa’s mind and her thoughts after any given situation. The play is even written by a man who will never truly experience this condition, though he does make a wonderful attempt.
There are many notable moments from a sly cowboy working hard to get Melissa out of her shell to a delightful campground maintenance worker doing her best to help out with her experience and expertise. Though the dialogue, at times, can slide towards cliché in one sentence it can immediately point out and laugh at the cliché and turn it into a whimsical thought just passing through. Clyde Clark, portrayed by Stephen Bradbury, gives the play a breath of fresh air and the audience a wonderful break from the heavy material.
Despite all of these pleasing moments, the giant pink elephant in the room seems to go a little flat at moments. The number one reason for this may be the interior mindset scenes which were flashed so quickly that the audience didn’t even have time to absorb we were in Melissa’s mind. Granted this could be a directorial choice but every time we entered Melissa’s mind it would take a moment of realization. This could possibly be a function of the blue light suddenly flashing overhead providing dim lighting on the faces – – very different from the open whitewash at the beginning. The dialogue was presented so quickly that the flashes were sometimes over before the eyes could even properly adjust. Understanding Melissa and allowing the audience to build sympathy required more time and would have greatly increased these chances.
There are moments of pure dialogue where the audience is allowed to truly feel for Melissa and understand her need for this baby. One glorious moment, for example and beware because this is indeed a minor spoiler, occurs when Melissa confides in Clyde (the comical relief cowboy) about her brother’s passing and the hole it left within her heart. Melissa, who never truly leaves the stage, appears as a truly modern, Pro-Choice, intellectual human being torn asunder by her own dilemma and feeling of responsibility of population control. The writer is even brilliant enough to present this choice through Melissa’s two possible loves: Tad, for abortion, and Duffle who is against it. By presenting the audience with a visual choice, we are forced to form our own thoughts and choose a side.
The last mind-flash, in which everybody is talking too much, is confusing as there isn’t quite enough time to absorb what’s happening to figure out what Melissa is actually thinking. Overall, more clarity could have been provided with the help of better creative lighting execution. It was difficult to see the actors, at times, due to too little light or random black spots that appeared on portions of the actors’ bodies.
Written by Steven Somkin and Directed by Mel Cobb; Melissa’s Choice played May 5-May 22, 2015 at The Lion Theatre at the Theatre Row.
*Photos: Margaret Purcell