With “Zirkus Grimm” creeping out Irvington, a striking female lead gracing an outdoor “Hamlet” at Marion U., and the “Hair” tribe dropping trou at the Athenaeum, who’d have thought that the place to go for a Teflon summer romantic comedy would be the Phoenix Theatre?
That’s not a criticism, just an observation. I appreciate that the Phoenix can play a wide range of theatrical notes—just as I appreciate that it can upgrade less-than-stellar material with a strong cast.
That’s the case with Don Zolidis’ “Miles & Ellie” (through Aug. 10). Its first act is just an applause-sign and warm-up act short of a sitcom while its second hints at a better play just a few rewrites away.
Yet, like a sitcom taping, the play yields its share of pleasures. First, there are plenty of laughs (example: the father on knowing his daughter’s marriage wasn’t going to work out: “That’s why we didn’t go in for the more expensive photo package”). Second, there’s Lisa Ermal and Zachariah Stonerock, adept at playing teenagers and their 30-years-later counterparts, and Carrie Schlatter. tasked with playing two very different stereotypes—the randy cheerleader and the born-again Stepford wife—before revealing something richer.
For the play to be fully satisfying, though, we’d have to see more clearly the schism between Ellie’s memories of her family and the less-exaggerated reality. The ending of the play hinges on the realization that her (and, by extension, our) perceptions of youth aren’t totally in sync with the reality of what happened way back when. Yet we never get to see the “real” parents—only the cartoon versions that Ellie has constructed. In doing (or not doing) so, Zolidas reduces our hope that Ellie is going to be okay after all. He misses the chance for a more theatrically satisfying ending to this story of a woman we—despite the author's inability to give her much more to think about then men—actually come to care about.