Monday, December 14, 2015

Convincing? Of COURSE they were!

"They're so convincing," said the woman sitting somewhere behind me after the performance this past Friday night of "Kalamazoo" at Tipping Point Theatre in Northville.

Apparently, she hadn't read the program.

You see, "Kalamazoo" is the story of a widow and a widower, both in their 70s, who sign up for an online matchmaking service at the behest of their kids. She's Catholic and a bit old fashioned, he's Jewish and open to a shiksha, and each is intrigued by the other's profile. And so they arrange to meet. What follows, then, is a series of  scenes in which their budding relationship is explored - the ups, the downs, the fears, and the joys.

Which brings me back to the beginning: Yes, the woman behind me was indeed correct. However, there's a really good reason why the actors were so convincing: Arthur J. Beer and Mary F. Bremer-Beer are married in real life, and - to the best of my knowledge - are still quite in love with one another after quite a number of years together. (Plus, they're damn fine actors - so even if they hated each others' guts, they'd still pull it off quite magnificently!)

But no matter, Art and Mary's performances seemed to speak volumes to the almost-sold-out crowd that surrounded me, the vast majority of whom looked to be at or near the age of the characters. They laughed at all the right places, and knowingly nodded to one another when situations seemed familiar. In fact, it felt as if many in the audience weren't watching a play, but were instead revisiting bits and pieces of their own past - which means they identified with the characters and with the emotional roller coaster on which they were riding.

And that begs the question: Was it the script or the performances that drew the audience into the lives of Irving and Peg?

A bit of both, of course; without the words by Michelle Kholos Brooks and Kelly Younger, there'd be no reason for Art and Mary to be on stage in front of the audience.

But words can be interpreted a number of ways - some good, some not so good. Under the careful eye of director Christopher Bremer, however, Art and Mary found all of the nuances hinted at in the text and breathed life into the words - so much so, that instead of two actors, the audience observed two "people of a certain age" taking baby steps together into an uncertain future. And while each of us experiences uncertainty, loss and a desire for companionship as we walk through life, the older we get, the scarier that journey can become. That, I suspect, is part of what rang so true to many in the audience.

Plus, the fact that is was done so well - so truthfully - by these two longtime beloved veterans of the stage means this: that what could have been an entertaining, but not-so-special production was transformed into a visceral experience that seemed to resonate on a deep level with many who were in attendance.

So yes, Art and Mary were convincing.

The bottom line: Tipping Point is batting two for two in what's shaping up to be a mighty fine ninth season!

(One last thing: In case you're wondering, Chris Bremer is Mary's son, and he serves as the executive director of The Jewish Ensemble Theatre Company in West Bloomfield where "Kalamazoo" is scheduled to return this coming May.)

"Kalamazoo" continues at Tipping Point Theatre through Dec. 20, with a special performance on New Year's Eve. CLICK HERE for times, dates and complete information.

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