April 16, 2010

Trust no one
by Greg Boyle

Opening this week at the Westport Coffee House is the world premiere of a relevant new play by Blue Springs playwright, Bill Rogers. Breaking the Trust tells a tale that nearly everyone will eventually live through, that is, the death of a relative and the family interactions that follow. This work won first prize at Rockhurst Universityís Plays in Progress competition, and a previous Rogers play, Collisions, was KCStageís top-rated show of 2008.

Marcie Ramirez as Lorna comforts Linda Levin as Norah in Breaking the Trust. (photo by Janet Rogers)

Westport Coffee House might seem like an unusual place for theatre, but downstairs from the shop is a warren of rooms both large and small. The theatre is surprisingly roomy, with perhaps 60 comfortable seats. The entrance is through the coffee shop upstairs, but that just makes it convenient to have some of their yummy goodies with you while you watch the show. The only people who arenít accommodated very well are the actors. Thereís almost no backstage area and the restrooms are on the other side of the audience. But hey! Thereís no whining in show biz!

The single set by extraordinary stage designer RJ Parrish is simple, functional, and cramped, reflecting the eccentric packrat bachelor who recently passed away. Director Jack McCord does an exceptional job of making the area seem larger with his staging of the action. As Iíve stated in previous reviews, itís not the location but the performance that makes for a fine evening of theatre, and thatís what you get with Breaking the Trust.

The storyline is of four middle-aged sisters plus one husband and nephew who arrive for the funeral services of the sistersí baby brother. Typically at first, no one wants to speak any unkind words, but before the gathering is over all manner of secrets and surprises are revealed. This is a (mostly) normal family with issues and resentments that spring from times far in the past. We have a take-charge sister, a cancer survivor sister, a wealthy sister and a flakey, change with the seasons sister. That is a simplistic description and the characters arenít at all one-dimensional. These are merely their salient personality traits.

The friction between them is created by the wording of the financial trust left by the deceased brother. It seems that he might not have been a neíer do well after all, but has left a $2 million estate! How the sisters deal with the sudden unexpected possibility of newfound wealth, how those thoughts affect their interactions with each other, and what they learn about greed and fairness, is a story older than Shakespeare.

A standout among the cast was Marcie Ramirez, whose runny mascara raccoon eyes were poignantly perfect. Her ďnothing ever turns out rightĒ characterization was absolute and complete. Another fine and understated performance was from Victor Hentzen, who portrays the nephew. We eventually learn that even he had his own little secrets with his departed uncle.

A lot of the humor of the play is lent by the husband, portrayed by Bill Pelletier. Alternately pompous and doofus, heís obviously the one who has tried to lighten things up for the past 40 years in order to keep these gals from each otherís throats.

For a change of pace in venue, and a play that has a lot to say about the way we all are, see Breaking the Trust. The play runs April 15-17, 22-24, 8 pm and April 18 & 25, 2 pm, at Westport Coffee House Theatre, 4010 Pennsylvania Ave. Tickets can be purchased at the door. For advance tickets, call 1-800-838-3006, or go online to: brownpapertickets.com/event/95490.

Greg Boyle can be contacted at gbboyle@kc.rr.com.