The Shop—Fort Fringe

Remaining Performances: 

Sunday, July 13 at 2:15 p.m.

Wednesday, July 16 at 8 p.m.

Saturday, July 19 at 2:45 p.m.

Thursday, July 24 at 6:15 p.m.

Saturday, July 26 at 1:15 p.m.

They say: Julia and Henry are struggling in their marriage, haunted by buried secrets, conflicting desires and a mysterious presence. She wants a baby; he wants to write opera. Unsettling new revelations push their relationship to its limit – and beyond.

Rachel’s Take: First-time playwright Jean Bordewich, until recently a U.S. Senate Committee staff director, was inspired by Nobelist Harold Pinter‘s play Old Times to write this relationship drama about a couple tested by their own needs and outside forces. It’s a loveliness of Fringe that a writer’s first work can get a full production like this—Bordewich also produced, with Cranky Girl Productions—but it’s also a risk. You learn a lot from your first.

The biggest problem here is that the characters spend a lot of time telling each other what they want, rather than trying to get it. Julia (Stephanie LaVardera) and Henry (Erik Harrison) don’t seem to like each other much, but explain to each other that they had a marvelous first date in Paris, and that her poetry-quoting reminds him of his mother, so here they are trying to make a four-year marriage work.

And there’s a big gothic backstory with Henry’s dead mother, in whose house they are living. It takes longer for Henry to tell the story than for him to get over it, though, and there is a lot more plot that doesn’t seem to connect or explain why the characters change.

In between scenes, opera music plays and the actors confront each other silently, sometimes holding the set for the next scene, sometimes storming off afterward. I don’t know if this was up and coming director Adi Stein‘s invention or if it’s in the script, but it was the only time we got to see, rather than be told, how the characters were feeling.

The performances are nicely understated and natural, and I liked how flexible the set was, with the same few pieces rearranging into several locations. The Shop’s punishing acoustics don’t help the actors be heard, but it might help the show to have everything a little less clearly spelled out.

See it if: You’re interested in first drafts, opera or mysterious backstory.

Skip it if: You want it all to add up.