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Missing Pages
Fort Fringe – Redrum

Remaining Performances:
Sunday, July 19th at 6:45 p.m.; Thursday, July 23 at 5:30 p.m.;  Saturday, July 25th at 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, July 26th at 2:15 p.m.

They say: “A World War II hero, his daughter and Vietnam veteran son confront the secrets that haunt and divide them. This powerful new drama, lightened with laughter, was inspired by the author’s father, whose war diary she discovered after his death.

Glen’s Take:  “Emerging” local playwright Susan Austin Roth is a well-known and highly successful writer of gardening books, so should you see other reviews of Missing Pages busting out a lot of cheap gardening puns, you’ll know why.  Not here, though.  No, faithful F and P reader, here you will find no references to grafting, cutting or pruning;  that is my solemn vow.

A play that revolves around Alzheimer’s has a tough row to hoe.

Senile dementia is characterized by repetition, and that needs to be conveyed; one of Roth’s subjects, here, is the frustration that accompanies caring for aging parent.  For that frustration to register, we have to feel a bit of what is felt by her characters, doting Charlotte (Lynn-Jane Foreman) and taciturn Vietnam vet Andy (Joe Peck) as they struggle to deal with George, their alternately sweet and belligerent father (Robert Leembruggen).

That their father repeats himself so often is dramaturgically fraught, because in drama, repetition good, repetitiveness bad.  Those  moments when Leembruggen’s proud WWII-vet becomes lucid enought to chastise his son for being a deserter, coward and traitor feel real, all right, but they don’t move — they hit such similar dramatic beats that it begins to feel as if whole scenes have been cut-and-pasted throughout the script.

That would be a bigger problem if Leembruggen weren’t so appealing an actor — and one confident enough to convey George’s disease without broad, movie-of-the-week strokes.

Roth is on to something, here; she’s crafted some interesting parallels between father and son.  At this point, she’s still pushing them at us instead of letting us find them, which which is why, I think, the scene in which one of the father’s WWII memories combines with the son’s ‘Nam flashbacks feels as needless and over-the-top as it does.

Director Diana Denley tries to make it work, and is elsewhere quite nimble at the kind of low-fi stagecraft Fringe demands, but it’s no use.

Even so, Roth’s ending is satisfying and legitimately moving. Once her script loses its rhetorical training wheels, and she excises from her dialogue the kind of pre-digested bits of language more apt to crop up on TV than in real life (viz: “And what about what I need?” “He’s your father, too!” and “I know, Dad. I know.”) Missing Pages will be get leaner, tighter, and more effective.  If this current Fringe staging feels a litle shaggy and unkempt, well [GARDENING REFERENCE REDACTED.]

See it if:  You approach Fringe like a theater workshop, and are looking to discover a serious, rough but promising work.

Skip it if: You approach Fringe like last call at Camelot. (Woo!  Boobies!)  Or the phrase “My war was different than your war” sets off alarm bells.