When take your seat in the small theater in which All Seasons Theater Group is launching its second season, with Leslie Lyles A Lifetime of Reasons, you're faced with a big black gate. Given the program's announcement that the play takes place in Ossining, N. Y. and begins in the early 1950s, that gate immediately evokes Sing Sing prison and its chilling death row and electric chair executions. But the gate does not take us inside the prison which has long been closed and forgotten by the families who moved to Ossining because they couldn't quite afford the nearer-to-Manhattan Westchester hamlets. Instead, when opened it brings us to the grounds of a 26-room mansion occupied by an eccentric inventor (Alexander Robert Scott) his high-strung and never seen wife and their three daughters.
It doesn't take long though for us to realize that the mansion too is a prison of sorts. The three girls whose lives we follow through some forty years, played by one set of actresses from early childhood to young womanhood, and another set continuing their saga to the present. As Ms. Lyles tries to show in her drawn-out dramatic metaphor these sisters are unable to free themselves from the crippling eccentricities that ruled their seemingly carefree and privileged childhood -- or the sibling bonds that endure even through years during which they not only lose track of each other but their girlhood dreams.
The most obvious metaphor for these poor little rich girls' gilded imprisonment, is the father's habit of removing the doorknobs (to keep them safe) so that they are as effectively locked in as the nearby Sing Sing inmates. Father also flies in the face of the country club set which prefers to ignore anything ugly as it manages to ignore the ugly prison and the executions taking place within its walls. When 8-year old Alicia (Rosemarie Dewitt) is sexually molested by a gardener who may also be a murderer, Father insists that she gives testimony not just once, but several times.
Alicia seems to emerge emotionally unscathed during the first half of the play but the trauma of that event seems somewhere at work in the older Alicia's (Caitlin Fitzgerald) emergence as a frantic do-gooder and eventually, catatonic homeless woman. The other two sisters fare only slightly better. Young Margaret (Geneva Carr) who dreamed of being a novelist emerges as a plump, unmarried retired teacher (very amusingly played by Mary Louise Burke). Brenda (Abigail Morgan), the only one of the girls whose dreams were always grounded in reality makes her ambition in marriage come true in spades. When we meet her in middle age (played with wry wit by Christine Farrell) she is trying to keep the last of her numerous marriages from falling apart. As she tells Margaret "I took up smoking again so Andrew and I would have something in common-- then he quit."
There's some smart and often funny dialogue, from the sisters' first scene to their reunion in the mansion still occupied by Margaret. These parts are unfortunately better than the whole. The finale -- somewhat reminiscent of Rebecca but not as satisfyingly definitive. This leaves you with a sense that Ms. Lyle has something to say but hasn't quite found the right path towards making her mission clear.
|A LIFETIME OF REASONS
By Leslie Lyles'
Directed by Shirley Kaplan. .
With: Geneva Carr, Rosemarie Dewitt, Abigail Morgan, MaryLouise Burke, Christine Farrell and Caitlin Fitzgerald playing the sisters in the 50's (first act) and present day (second act). Also starring Marc Ardito and Alexander Robert Scott
Set design: George Xenos
Costume design: Carol Pelletier
Lighting design: Greg MacPherson
Sound design: Robert Gould
Art Mart, (the space formerly occupied by the Ubu Theater) 15 W. 28th St. 2nd floor, betw. 5th Ave. & Broadway (N or R Train to 28th St.) Tickets ($12 -- 212/ 975-9571.
Reviewed2/02/99 based on 1/30/99 performance by Elyse Sommer