The play’s the thing

Is it telling that I’m still thinking very much about CORONADO the morning after I saw it? Thinking that I really need to see this play again soon? Point is, I had high expectations but tried awfully hard to temper them because a top novelist doesn’t necessarily make for an excellent playwright. But since Dennis Lehane has already crossed into teaching, moviemaking, and TV-writing territory with superior results, it’s hardly a surprise that CORONADO is really, really good.

As already reported, the play is based on Lehane’s short story “Until Gwen” but it’s much more opened up — the story of Gwen, Bobby and his father is only one of the storylines. The others involve a brittle woman and her complicated relationship with her psychiatrist, and a young woman named Gina married to a drunken lout who makes the mistake of falling in love with Will, someone far closer to her age, and with a capacity for violence and dreaming that doesn’t just impact them, but every other character in the play.

I won’t get into a really detailed plot summary because it’s pretty spoiler-ish (though fortunately, the interconnections are revealed in a way that assumes the audience is intelligent enough to get it early enough) but I really loved how Lehane layers the story, using flashback, dream sequences and above all, rhythmically sharp dialogue. There is pain, love, humor (sometimes extremely silly — the line about going to see Michael Bay movies made most of the house crack up) and pathos, sometimes all at once, because these characters feel all of those things and we feel along with them.

But as good as the play is on paper, it wouldn’t succeed without the actors, and the Invisible City Theater went above and beyond with their cast. Though everyone did a great job, the ones who stick out in my mind are Kathleen Wallace (as the patient), Rebecca Miller (who in the opening scene of the play radiated lustful heat with a mere look in her eyes) and especially Gerry Lehane (as Bobby’s father), who has incredible presence on stage. There was one moment when dropped his voice to say a single word, and the entire house was dead silent, so riveted by that moment and by Lehane’s acting.

If I had one issue it’s that I think CORONADO needs a bigger stage to work with (especially in act II). There’s so much emotion and character and tension, but because the audience was so close (I sat in the front row and was practically right on top of some of the actors if they moved too far downstage) the tension reflected right back instead of going out further in waves. And the actors have enough range and power to fill a larger theater. Hopefully they’ll have the chance, and soon.

CORONADO runs through till December 17, but most nights are sold out — which makes sense since the Manhattan Theater Source, where it’s currently playing, is bloody small. So if you can score a ticket, do so. This is not to be missed.