- Courtesy Of Lindsay Raymondjack Photography
- From left: Shannon Lowe, Jon van Luling, David Belvedere, Patrick Clow, Jennifer Brownell, Carly Bennett, Nan Murat, Noah Detzer, Bob Martin and Georgia Malone-Wolfsun
Audiences never tire of laughing at people sillier than themselves, and The Sleepover — A Comedy of Marriage offers a full dozen fools in love. Local playwright Carole Vasta Folley directs her own script, and 12 actors fill the stage as delightfully miscommunicating couples. The Girls Nite Out Productions show perfectly fits the company's mission of providing stage roles for women and showcasing women playwrights; the laughs are a bonus.
The setting is a two-day marriage retreat, run by couples counselors Mark and Susie. It's their first try at this therapeutic form, and it strains their own marriage before the weekend is over. Five couples have enrolled, each lugging marital problems heavier than the bags they drop at a ski lodge rented in the off-season.
As a playwright, Vasta Folley overstuffs the show with people, and she arguably could have developed the comedy and characters more fully with four couples instead of five. But, as a director, she keeps the goofy, emotional bunch moving around the stage as they listen, blame, overshare and try the odd trust exercise.
The dialogue crackles, and the show's comic energy emerges from a nicely blended chorus of aggrieved voices. Each couple's marriage is missing something, and even though the retreat facilitators bungle every communication gimmick they introduce, these hapless souls all bicker long enough to get a glimpse of what could keep their love alive.
The first participants to arrive, Smith and Jan, become the energizers of the play. They shimmy in, decked in beads, scarves and yoga pants, and never stop stirring the action. They're marriage-retreat aficionados who've discovered that group therapy puts them in just the mood for sex. Smith, played by the utterly hilarious Patrick Clow, loves being the center of attention. Jennifer Brownell makes Jan an up-for-anything earth child who alternates between being Smith's enabler and his pixie-ish foil.
Scott and Julie check in next. He's hopeful; she's here under protest. That's their marriage in a nutshell. Scott is too nervous and too nice, and Julie doesn't mind ridiculing him by filling out his name tag as "Scoot." In the yearbook, they'd be the couple most likely to blow the trust fall. David Belvedere turns on doe eyes to play the sweet Scott; as Julie, Carly Bennett counters them with a steely gaze and sharp wit.
Wayne and Cybil are thoroughly burnt out. They've been married too long to remember the spark that brought them together, and now they needle each other with practiced precision. Bob Martin plays Wayne as a tired man only going through the motions but gives him depth enough to transform. As Cybil, Nan Murat shows nuance as the character grows, moving from world-weary wine guzzler to a wife who sees her husband with fresh eyes.
Young Dave and Rosemarie are newlyweds, arriving at the retreat direct from their childish honeymoon at a Harry Potter theme park. Vasta Folley can't quite settle on their problem, writing them as both sexually naïve and too randy to keep their hands off each other. If marriage is a lifetime commitment, these two don't know each other well enough to make it. Noah Detzer is charmingly boyish as Dave, and Georgia Malone-Wolfsun makes Rosemarie comically innocent, with enough spirit to learn how to grow up.
Fiftysomething Barbara and Jesse have grown apart thanks to Barbara's laser focus on her career and investment portfolio. Barbara is accustomed to luxury, and she's far out of her element at a rustic lodge without cell service. Jesse resorts to trickery to fix their relationship, but the playwright barely has time for their story. Shannon Lowe is a sympathetic Jesse and Jo Sabel Courtney is a hard-charging Barbara who comes into her own when helping Rosemarie.
A couple themselves, facilitators Mark and Susie pride themselves on having "the marriage that works." But even as they coo about how well they get along, they disagree on how to run the retreat. Then Mark finds himself in a small world when he welcomes Julie to the gathering. Back in college, they were engaged, and he's still stricken that she broke up with him. Susie is overwhelmed by a flash flood of jealousy when she discovers that Mark referred to Julie by the same pet name he now uses for her.
Jon van Luling portrays Mark as a man huffing and puffing to make it through the weekend. His comic instincts are good, but he can overplay when he goes all out for a laugh. As Susie, Hannah Normandeau sets her jaw and walks with fierce determination when trying to hold her own against Mark. Their marriage needs more fixing than the playwright has time for, but the trope of married marriage counselors is clever.
Set designer Ann Vivian and set decorators Betsy Conlon and Margaret Boylan create a nicely detailed ski lodge with a rumpus-room feel. A moose head with a busted antler, slammable doors and two big, comfy couches get all the couples in the mood to confess, complain and counterattack.
Costume designer Josephine Caycedo tells the story of each character in clothes that reveal neat little details, from Mark's fussy plaid bow tie to Wayne and Cybil's preference for gloomy maroon to the letting-it-all-hang-out comfort clothes of Smith and Jan.
Vasta Folley won the 2015 Vermont Playwrights Award for the script. The concept is charming even if much of the comedy repeats the same note of mates who can't quite communicate, whether they slip on blindfolds or sit knee-to-knee to talk. All 12 actors are onstage for much of the show, and they deliver the snappy dialogue as well-timed repartee. It's an evening of funny foolishness, delivered with appealing energy.