By Daniel Skora
“Life is so tough…” Joan Rivers once said in one of her monologues, “… you better laugh at everything”. And she might have added “everything” includes death, as long as it’s somebody else’s or it takes place in a murder mystery or some other fiction.
Williamston Theatre is currently presenting “Summer Retreat”, the title of which conjures up a rustic cottage, sandy beaches and sailboat outings on a crystal-blue lake. And that’s what the summer retreat was for the four young women who vacationed there every summer during their college years, forging bonds of friendship and creating memories to last a lifetime. But time marches on and the women have now succumbed to the demands of middle age, raising families and working at their professions.
Three of the friends now find themselves again at the cottage, but the reunion is not a happy one. One of their number has died, her funeral held the very morning of the afternoon in which the play begins. And while a certain amount of mourning does take place, sadness at the death of their friend is not the primary reason they have come together. One of the women has come to fulfill a promise; the other two have come because of a typo in a cell phone text message.
And so begins playwright Annie Martin’s hilarious and often chaotic comedy about how much the bonds of friendship can be stretched before they snap, and about how death can be mishandled to the point where it becomes wildly amusing. Among the delights of Martin’s writing are all of the twists and turns she puts into her story. Just when you begin to think you’ve got a handle about where her story’s going to settle, another delightful predicament pops up, raising the play to a new level.
Williamston and director Suzi Regan have upped the ante on Martin’s wonderfully entertaining script by casting four of the area’s finest actresses in this deliciously entertaining production (along with one guy, we might add). Sandra Birch plays Sian, a stay-at-home mom who considers herself all too ordinary when compared to her two friends. Sian has an unexpected encounter with a “foreign substance” in an e-cigarette that’s just one of many hilarious situations that happen during the course of the show. Julia Glander is Amy, an educator by profession and the person whose thoughtful but illegal act sets the play in motion. Several times she attempts to tell the others that she hasn’t come to the cottage just to reminisce, but always seems to fail.
Emily Sutton-Smith is Caroline, a professional women stressed out because she should be back in New York, working at her desk. Her cell phone is her constant companion and proves that electronics and summer retreats just don’t mix. Dani Cochran plays Shep, the younger sister of the deceased, who as a youngster must have been the belligerent kid on the playground who knew where to score every kind of contraband and has grown into adulthood without having lost any of her childhood skills.
Shep has as much fun enjoying the predicament the others find themselves in as the audience does, except, perhaps, when she finds out that when you gotta go, you gotta go, though perhaps you shouldn’t have gone where you went. Patrick Loos is the lone guy in the play, and his few appearances are the cause of much of the play’s hysterics.
There would be too many spoiler alerts if all the play’s considerable surprises were disclosed. Suffice it to say that the play proceeds in an ever increasing arc of excitement and the ladies are brilliant at fleshing it out. Their timing is impeccable, with lines being delivered in rapid-fire succession, often started even before others have finished theirs. And much of the show is good, physical comedy. Lydia Hiller is credited with being a fight choreographer for the show.
Kirk Domer has designed the typical rustic cabin, with hand-me-down appliances and all those things needed for summer fun scattered about. Sand fences mounted to the walls instill a sense of what’s to be found outdoors. Costumes are by Holly Iler, each of the women receiving the “look” that corresponds to their character. Lighting is by Alex Gray and props are by Michelle Raymond.
This World Premier of “Summer Retreat” closes out Williamston’s Tenth Anniversary Season and they have indeed saved the best ‘til last. This is Don’t Miss Theatre, so by all means, go and see this marvelous show. “Summer Retreat” runs through August 21st. Tickets can be purchased Tuesday through Friday by calling 517.655.7469 or by visiting the Williamston box office. They can also be ordered online up to 24 hours prior to the performance by visiting www.williamstontheatre.org. Williamston Theatre is located at 122 S. Putnam Road in downtown Williamston. Take I-96 west and get off at Exit 117.