Chad Hoeppner and Matthew Mabe in Scituate
(© Leon Joosen)
Chad Hoeppner and Matthew Mabe in Scituate
(© Leon Joosen)
Politics isn't the only thing to make strange bedfellows. In Martin Casella's heartfelt and slightly predictable play Scituate, we meet Stewart Lombardi (Chad Hoeppner), a 30-something man who has just lost his lover, Robbie (Matthew Mabe) to AIDS, and who refuses to leave his bed for 30 days. During that troubled month, however, all sorts of people join Stewart in that bed -- his understanding parents (Damian Buzzerio and Holly Barron), his tender-yet-tough therapist, Peach (Constance Boardman), and even his best friends, straight couples Jayce and Pokie (Curran Connor and Missy Hargraves) and Greeber and Sasha (Laurence Lau and Stefanie Zadravec).

As much as they try to comfort him, console him, and cajole him to leave the bed, Stewart simply won't move -- not even to go to Robbie's funeral. The reason is more complex than just mere grief. On the night of Robbie's death, Stewart believes he was visited by his beloved and thinks a return appearance might happen again if he simply stays put.

In addition to that visitation, Casella also includes two flashback sequences between Stewart and Robbie; the first, a disastrous vacation episode in Greece in which Robbie freaks out during a blackout; the second, the night the pair first slept together. In doing so, Casella effectively demonstrates the highs and lows of the couple's complicated relationship, a subject that's also tackled head-on in the frank conversations between Stewie and Peach.

Casella, who wrote the play in 2001, recently lost his partner, the actor Patrick Quinn; and that sad knowledge adds a level of depth that isn't necessarily there on the page. In the long run, the playwright simply doesn't have anything new to say about grief (if there is anything new to say). However, he does make a great case for the importance of good friends and supportive parents, and he does a fine job in drawing interesting (if not completely believable) relationships among all these disparate characters.

However, the dialogue too often strays into sitcomese -- the play could almost be a television pilot -- and there are a few too many moments of clumsy exposition. Moreover, I don't really understand why a group of people in a small Massachusetts town -- one known as "The Irish Riviera" no less -- all have names that sound like they come from the deep South. (No one really has a New England accent either!)

The production might also have benefited from a more imaginative director than David Hilder. However, he does get good work from most of the cast. Lau -- a familiar face to soap opera viewers and recent theatergoers -- brings a real warmth to Greeber, a corporate lawyer who's shockingly comfortable with his sexuality. Zadravec gets her laughs as his cranky wife; Mabe is to be commended for not shying away from showing Robbie's bad qualities; Boardman has the therapist attitude scarily down pat; Barron is properly maternal; and Hargraves is touching and funny until she gets unnecessarily strident in the show's penultimate scene.

Ultimately, though, Scituate gains its greatest strength from Hoeppner, who had a small role in the Broadway revival of Butley. Handsome in an everyman kind of way -- and, more importantly, intensely likeable -- Hoeppner makes Stewart someone you'd want to climb into bed with, no matter the circumstances. Indeed, if the bed was bigger, I have no doubt some audience members would be tempted to leave their seats and get under the covers with him.