There is plenty of the “familiar” in the production of Here and There, a play running at the Detroit Repertory Theatre. From a former local broadcaster making her stage debut to the poignant lessons about living in the past while dealing with grief in the present, there is a familiarity and warmth that is easy to slip into. This play does not say anything new or original about its theme, but rather is a folksy melodrama wrapped in an urbane shell of pontification and monologue.
The actress in question is former WKBD-TV/WWJ-TV (Channels 50 and 62) news anchor Amyre Makupson. As most Detroiters know, Makupson has a very distinctive, very specific vocal range. When she steps onstage in the lead role of Becca and delivers the first of a succession of monologues spoken directly to the audience, one must use all their strength to keep the suspension of disbelief necessary to enjoy any fictional enterprise. Imagine Bill Bonds, Mort Crim or any other Detroit broadcasting fixture pitching you a tale under stage lights without a desk, a TelePrompTer or a smiling sidekick. What starts as a bit of novelty soon wears off as the story unfolds, and only resurfaces when Makupson’s acting skills are strained by the demands of the material, which frequently calls for a very quick shift in tenor and mood.
Becca is a retired writer, living in Arizona, unable and unwilling to shake the memory of her deceased husband, Aaron (John Forman), who makes frequent visits into the home that was intended to be their end-of-the-road Eden. Aaron, also a writer, died a few years back, but is still available in ghost form to Becca for long chats about fatherhood, sports and love. He sits rather stiffly in his all-white outfit in his old haunt, the La-Z-Boy in the living room. He’s wearing the same white getup they buried him in: shorts, tennis shoes, shirt. In a “familiar” bit of repartee with the audience, he explains that his whole life was spent in a suit and tie, and under no circumstances was he going to spend eternity in such garb.
Throughout the play, Becca seems relatively content and her conversations with her dead husband are pithy and anecdotal — with a dead husband this colorful, animated and clever, there doesn’t seem to be much reason for her to “get over it.” I suppose that was the big lesson of this play: Get from the “here” to the “there.” Bathe in the memories of a lost love, but do not drown. Becca never seems to be drowning, though, and her recollections of a silly group counseling session she was talked into, and her obvious wisdom when recounting her dependence on humor to see her through the rough times, belies her need for such hand-holding.
Becca and Aaron have a son, Josh (Jeff Thomakos), who also talks to his father’s ghost while staying with his mother for a short visit before his big acting debut in New York City. Sadly, Josh’s aw-shucks demeanor was distracting, and his heart-to-hearts with his Dad were not nearly as inspired as the flashbacks that show pivotal moments in his parents’ lives. The flashbacks are played out on a cleverly crafted lazy Susan that spins the characters in and out of view, in and out of time.
Esther Blumenfeld, the author of Here and There, has made a career of writing about humor in such books as Oh, Lord, I Sound Just Like Mama (I’m not kidding), Oh, Lord, It’s Monday Again (again, I’m not kidding) and The Smile Connection: How To Use Humor In Dealing With People (you get the idea). If these titles seem a little Erma Bombeckian to you, you’ll have a good idea how her play flies. It’s warm, sticky and sweet; every aphorism and observation rings familiar. It’s kind of like hanging out with a mildly funny old man on a park bench on a sunny day — touching, but ultimately a bit tired and clichéd.
Here and There is showing at the Detroit Repertory Theatre (13103 Woodrow Wilson, Detroit) through Dec. 28. Call 313-868-1347 for ticket information.E-mail Dan DeMaggio at [email protected].