If you saw “Our Eliza” last year at Perchance, as I did, you will thank yourself for seeing it again this season. Allison Moira Kelly, Greg Malone and Evan Mercer lay everything out, delivering raw performances that make you share their joy, frustration, fear and sadness.
The play occurs over the course of one day during which Eliza (Allison Moira Kelly) struggles for an appropriate moment to deliver some news to her father, Loomis (Greg Malone). The day’s events are interspersed with scenes from Eliza’s, Loomis’s, and Hank’s (Evan Mercer) past that allow the audience to gradually piece together the nature of Eliza’s relationship with her father. This is how playwright Megan Gail Coles masterfully builds tension and conflict.
At the beginning we feel sympathy for the elderly Loomis as Eliza appears frustrated with his age and needs. Bit by bit, however, Coles reveals the true sources of Eliza’s frustration and it becomes more and more difficult to determine who, if anyone, is to blame for anything.
Greg Malone is priceless in his portrayal of the old Newfoundland skipper, right down to the sneakers with Velcro fasteners and obsessive requirement for three-square meals.
Director Lois Brown navigates the passage of time with brilliant simplicity. Eliza and Hank mention “the baby” in early scenes, and later “university.” We know a couple of decades have passed. The rotary wall phone is used at first, but later Hank and Eliza have a wireless pushbutton. Brown’s use of material props to show the passage of time through technological progress is a subtle technique that knits scenes together seamlessly.
Despite the tragedy this play confronts, “Our Eliza” is also hilarious. Greg Malone is priceless in his portrayal of the old Newfoundland skipper, right down to the sneakers with Velcro fasteners and obsessive requirement for three-square meals. He knows exactly when to break tension with a witty remark about Purity Cream Crackers or some creative swearing. Though he and Kelly play characters struggling in their relationship, the two actors have a natural chemistry and share tender father-daughter moments that are beautiful in their simplicity. The same chemistry exists between all the relationships on stage.
Kelly and Mercer appear so comfortable together that Eliza and Hank just fall into the rhythm of each other’s lives as they move through courtship and marriage. And Malone, as the eager father-in-law, is endearing and comical. He wants his daughter to marry and be happy, but he respects that it is her decision and tries to hold back, even though he cannot help but push her a little to say yes.
Mercer, meanwhile, plays the respectful son-in-law who must balance his wife’s concern for her father with his own desire to respect Loomis as an individual and a man. That these actors successfully portray so many relationship complexities and layers of personality, and with such honesty and hilarity, is a testament to their talent.
This is a play of visceral emotion. Have you had the experience when you go to a funeral visitation, not because you really want to, but because you feel you have to, and when you leave, you simultaneously feel heartbroken, but also filled with love for the person who has died and for those left behind? Despite the pain, you feel incredibly grateful to yourself for having gone and spent time sharing memories, crying, and laughing. Love. Grief. Joy. Rage. Catharsis. That is “Our Eliza.”
The cast and production team earned an extremely well-deserved standing ovation for this performance.
“Our Eliza” (directed by Lois Brown) continues at Perchance Theatre in Cupids until Aug. 25. For more information, visit www.perchancetheatre.com or phone 1-709-771-2930.