The newly refurbished AS220 black box at 95 Empire is still familiar, but very finely polished and cleaned up around the edges. Upon entering, the set is what looks to be a chic New York loft. It’s become part of the experience with any Counter Productions show that the set is a fully fleshed-out character in and of itself. There is a deep appreciation for the small details, even on parts of the set that never get used in the script. This type of meticulous set design (in this instance, Katie Russell handles design duties for CPTC) transports the audience and that, combined with the seating in the round, creates a fully immersive evening of theater.
The Married Name is a world premiere by local writer, actor and artistic director of Epic Theatre Company, Kevin Broccoli. Having started out largely with his well-known monologue shows, featuring droves of talented local actors, his writing has shifted to also include many full-length plays as well (his Lizzie Borden, Lizzie Borden just concluded a successful run). The dialogue in this original piece is riveting, fast-paced, thoughtful and emotionally deep. The show consists of four men at a seemingly innocuous dinner party. In the first few minutes, we learn small yet pivotal details about the relationships in the room. Two of the men are engaged and planning their wedding, the other two are each of their best friends. The conversation is normal wedding banter about terrible DJs, who isn’t invited and problems with vendors. The first hint of a mood shift comes from the ongoing jab about which of these men is the “bride.” Both grooms vehemently claim they aren’t and even start to show a little irritation at the thought. From there the action begins to rise until long-kept secrets are being shouted, opinions about each other are being slung and relationships shift in and out of stability from moment to moment.
Riveting from the first lines of the script, the cast of this show was exceptional in both their performances and the nuances they found to each stand out. Having an ensemble cast with no specific lead, and similarly no weak link, is often discussed, but rarely found. This group of actors was set up to succeed with ever-moving pace and blocking from director Victoria Ezikovich. Having four actors in the round and largely at a dinner table can prove to be a daunting task. Sight lines are always a concern, but these men never seem to stop moving and as a direct result it feels like every moment can be seen from all sides. Ezikovich has a clear love of the material and her actors that can be felt in how connected everyone was. Ever-rotating feuds and allegiances can feel quick or phony if it is staged without care, but the audience is along for the ride, seeing and agreeing with every side of the story.
Rex, played by Justin Pimentel, is the first obvious “bride” in the group and plays an aspiring actor with a lot of big feelings and opinions. Pimentel draws so much of the attention to him because his performance is wildly electric. His deeply offensive cuts and brutal honesty keep him at what feels like the center of the drama, but as an actor, Pimentel is easy to love and root for due to his charm and commitment to the role. It is the type of performance that leaves everything out on the floor, but is done with precision and clear intent.
Fiancée to Rex is Dan (Adam Preston), a dashing and elegant presence against the more frenetic Pimentel. Preston has the large task of being the “sensible” one, which can often be less glamorous to play, but yields high rewards when done this expertly. Often the fixer in the group, Preston maintains a cool demeanor and a striking yet powerful calm.
Best friend of Rex is Ethan, the snarky and intelligent one, shown hilariously by the delightful Luis Minaya. Most of the perfectly timed comedic moments come from the side commentary by Ethan, and his fun and biting relationship with Rex keeps everyone on their toes. Minaya is quick, smart and perfectly witty. His energy is similarly as big as Pimentel’s, but played so differently, each stands out on their own.
The last member of this insane dinner party is best friend to Dan, Al. Ryan Leverone as Al is a hidden jewel in this big personality cast. He says probably the least, but somehow comes out affecting the audience the most. He has moments of genuine love and kindness as well as gut-wrenching lines that could crack a heart in two. A truly standout performance with so much depth, he is the beating heart of this group. There are moments where he is simply sitting on the floor clutching a throw pillow and amidst all the action, all that can be seen is the stunning look on his emotive face. The clear commitment to this role is obvious and beautiful to witness.
There are so many great shows going on in Rhode Island every weekend, but pair this being the final season of a Providence gem (this is Counter Productions’ next-to-last production) with a play this rewarding, and that makes The Married Name a must-see. It is rare to feel transported and invested in a group of actors so thoroughly. The audience leaves feeling introspective, happy, touched and most importantly, entertained. This is a non-stop ride well worth prioritizing in its few upcoming showings. All involved created something really special and totally new in a vast sea of local shows.
Counter-Productions Theatre Company ‘s production of The Married Name written by Kevin Broccoli, directed by Victoria Ezikovich runs March 15-24 with Adam Preston, Justin Pimental, Ryan Leverone and Luis Minaya at AS220 Black Box Theatre, 95 Empire St, PVD. More information online at cptcri.com.