Review - To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday

Amanda Smith
The Braintree Patch
March 08, 2011
Bright Performance at Curtain Call

Summer sun, flip flops and beach chairs provide bright contrast with the story of a family struggling to recover two years after the death of a young wife and mother in a boating accident on her birthday. So begins To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday. The play, written by Michael Brady, premiered to a packed house at the Curtain Call Theatre on Friday, March 4.

Directed by Curtain Call veteran Richard Carey and produced by Shannon L. Hogan, the story focuses on widower and former professor David (David Edge) who has withdrawn from his life and loved ones, including his teenage daughter Rachel (Dorian Oberstein). He spends his nights looking at the stars and talking to the memory of his wife, Gillian (Margaret Kelly).

Kelly’s appearances in the performance are comparatively brief, but she brings a grace and ethereal quality to the role that makes Gillian appear something between ghost and memory for David and the other characters.

The action takes place over a single weekend, the second anniversary of Gillian’s death and her 37th birthday, as Rachel and her aunt conspire to encourage David to consider dating and introduce him to a former student, Kevin (Kelli Canniff).

This production is driven by complex character performances from all members of the cast. Edge presents David’s anxiety and pain in a manner that is subtle but palpable. In a moment of confrontation with his daughter, he brings forth controlled intensity, and Oberstein presents the 16-year-old Rachel in a manner that befits a girl teetering on the edge of adulthood as she attempts to console her father; she is both childlike and maternal.

David’s primary adversary is his sister-in-law, Esther, played by a very excellent Antionetta Ruscio. Esther first appears bossy and demanding, but Ruscio exudes warmth as the layers of Esther’s own grief are exposed, and she and David make their way toward reconciliation.

The comic highlight of the production comes from Jim Gross as Esther’s husband Paul, a man who peppers conversation with corny jokes and banters with Rachel’s friend and neighbor Cindy, a witty and sparkling Danielle Bourgeois.

A film version of the play was produced in 1996, directed by Michael Pressman. The intimacy of the Curtain Call’s performance space, though, brings an immediacy to the script, though, and allows the audience to experience the family’s pains alongside the players.

The run of To Gillian on her 37th Birthday continues March 10-12 at 8 p.m. at the Curtain Call Theatre on Commercial Street in Braintree. Reservations can be made through the theatre box office.

The Curtain Call Theatre will complete its 2010- 2011 season with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I in May.