Hip Shot: Rosemary With Ginger

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Remaining Performances:

Tuesday, July 16 at 8:00pm
Friday, July 19 at 6:30pm
Sunday, July 21 at 5:45pm
Sunday, July 28 at 1:00pm

They say: “Rosemary is about to lose her children and Ginger is stuck in a loveless marriage. In Rosemary With Ginger, generations of self-destructive behavior reach a boil as two sisters battle themselves and each other to stave off family chaos.”

Greg’s Take: The blurb would have you believe that Edward Allen Baker’s play is about “generations of self-destructive behavior reach[ing] a boil,” but the reality is much simpler. Rosemary With Ginger is about two women who meet up to try and do something nice for their mom and wind up clawing each other’s eyes out because it’s the only thing they know how to do. It’s a tense, taut, and ultimately disappointing family drama that works because it maintains an unblinking focus on its only two characters, sisters who love each other fiercely and really don’t like each other all that much.

Now, to be clear, this is not a screamfest. I’ve seen shows in Fringes past wherein characters yell at each other nonstop until the lights go down, and luckily this is not one of them. Thanks for that can go squarely to Colleen McKenna and Jaime Fearer as Rosemary and Ginger, who tackle a script whose intensity starts at 11 and only goes up from there with dexterity, humanity, and that ever-rare commodity, restraint. In fact, the primary joy of this play is watching these two characters with their night and day personalities go toe-to-toe on the verbal battlefield. If the play works, when it works, it’s because McKenna and Fearer are walking a very fine line together between no-holds-barred sparring and subtle character choices.

However, the direction and writing merit less unchecked praise. The postcard lists Delia Taylor as “directorial advisor,” so it’s tough to know where to point the finger on that first one, but it suffices to say that the direction lacks any of the understatement that fuels the acting. McKenna’s Rosemary is the real victim here, since her character is prone to violent outbursts that are delivered in a subtle and believable way yet staged in an overwrought, swing-for-the-fences style that strains at credibility.

The writing’s a little more half-and-half. Dialogue-wise, Baker’s script is fantastic. It’s liberally peppered with interruptions, repetitions, and run-on sentences and is characterized by a complete disregard for the accepted rules of English grammar. In other words, it’s a perfect facsimile of the way people actually talk. But the writing fails when it comes time to deliver on its payload. Baker spends the entire play building a time-bomb of tension for the audience and doesn’t detonate. Rosemary and Ginger’s argument, which spans everything from alcoholism to sex to family trauma, just sort of fizzles out after a half hour with only the most meager attempt at a satisfying conclusion tacked on at the end. It’s almost as if the playwright just ran out of ideas, and decided that was a good place to stop.

Which brings me to my biggest gripe about Rosemary with Ginger: It’s short. Really short. The festival website lists the running time at half an hour, and I clocked it at a little shy of that, putting it well south of the length of time that most actual family arguments go on for. It’s too bad, too, because McKenna and Fearer jump into their roles with such abandon that after their first 10 minutes on stage I would have happily followed their characters for at least another hour. And, as much as I hate to quibble over money in a review that should be about art, I felt a little cheated by the length of this piece—-and I get to see these things for free. Take the $17 ticket price and stick a $7 button on top and you’re basically talking a dollar a minute for a Fringe show.

All of which is to say that Rosemary with Ginger works, but, all things considered, it’s really more of a sketch than a play. And it’s an excellent sketch. It’s well-written, superbly acted, and highly immersive. But a play demands more than of a journey from point A to point B than what Baker’s script gives us. In the end Rosemary with Ginger winds up back where it started: with two sisters, alone together in a coffeeshop.

See it if: You don’t mind paying top dollar to see some really excellent family feuding.

Skip it if: You wanna get the most bang for your buck.