‘Bowl-Mor Lanes’: No strike, but no gutter ball
STONEHAM — New plays are like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get.
The Greater Boston Stage Company had made it a point to regularly offer new works, and the results have been, predictably, mixed.
The theater’s artistic director, Weylin Symes, has entered the fray with his world premiere comedy “Last Night at Bowl-Mor Lanes,” now onstage through Sept. 29.
In program notes, Symes outlined the multiple reasons for crafting the piece, including the desire to tell a story that features suburban settings and people who look and feel like the people who live near the theater; creating acting opportunities for actors “of a certain age”; and also paying tribute to the basement of the Greater Boston Stage building, now rehearsal spaces and offices but once upon a time a bowling alley, where Symes’ father once set pins.
Since cinema already had its great bowling movies – the Farrelly Brothers’ hilarious “Kingpin” starring Randy Quaid and the cult hit “The Big Lebowski” – it seems right and just that the world of theater pay tribute to the keglers.
“Last Night at Bowl-Mor Lanes” is the story of a bowling alley that has been closed and slated to be demolished to make way for a Walmart. Two widows and longtime friends named Maude (Paula Plum) and Ruth (Nancy E. Carroll) decide to break in the night before the demolition and have one last go at a bowling rivalry that has been going for decades.
Right off the bat, it provides for some physical comedy from perhaps the actresses with the finest sense of comic timing in the area – I refer you to Carroll, for instance, in her scenes with Victor Garber in “Present Laughter” at the Huntington and on Broadway.
After many thousands of strings, Ruth and Maude find themselves tied in the number of strings won. So one last string will decide a lifetime of bragging rights.
The pins and the bowling bowls, of course, are just the backdrop for the two women’s stories of love and loss, and how when you are getting older and life is passing you by, even a blowing alley is something that hurts to give up.
As the widows bowl the final string, bowling alley owner Ed (Arthur Gomez) shows up unexpectedly, followed shortly by Ruth’s daughter Charlene (Ceit M. Zweil) and. eventually, Charlene’s daughter Teddy (Isabella Tedesco), and the piece devolves into family drama, which feels a bit forced.
New comedy is especially hard to predict, because you never really know how what works until you get it in front of a live audience Just like in the sport of bowling itself, “Last Night at Bowl-Mor,” has hits and misses, and there are times when it seems Symes has had to stretch, bend and pad to get to an acceptable 90-minute length
Still, he has smartly surrounded himself with so much talent in terms of cast, direction and production values that it does tend to mask some of the shortcomings in the script
Set designer James J. Fenton has done some very fine work for area theaters, and working in concert with sound designer David Wilson and lighting designer Jeff Adelberg, they combine to create the kitschy, faded glory of the Bowl-Mor, a realistic lane set-up and ball return, and well-timed sound effects to create the impression of a strike, spare or gutter ball.
At its very core, “Bowl-Mor” is a dose of nostalgia for. say, someone like me who grew up spending every Saturday morning at the Woodlawn Bowladrome in Randolph, returning later for adult leagues. The memories of the smell of the spray that used to keep the communal bowling shoes fresh and the shiny waxed lanes are still there.
If you saw Actors Shakespeare Project’s all-female “Julius Caesar,” O.W.I.’s lamentably-neglected “Red Velvet,” or her Norton Award-winning turn for Commonwealth Shakespeare with two Caryl Churchill one-acts, you recognize director Bryn Boice’s talent, and she mines the humor, the love and the longing of the piece and allows the warmth of the characters to shine through.
And even if it’s not a perfect game, how many us have even converted one 7-10 split?
The Greater Boston Stage Company word premiere production of “Last Night at Bowl-Mor Lanes.” Written by Weylin Symes. Directed by Bryn Boice. Assistant Director, Stephen Zubricki IV; Scenic Designer, James J. Fenton; Lighting Designer, Jeff Adelberg; Sound Designer, David Wilson; Costume Designer, Becca Jewett; Properties Master, Emme Shaw; Production Stage Manager, Julie Marie Langevin. At the Greater Boston Stage Company through Sept. 29. Greaterbostonstage.org.