Suzanne DiDonna and Craig Bockhorn
in The Framer
(© Jito Lee)
Suzanne DiDonna and Craig Bockhorn
in The Framer
(© Jito Lee)
There is an exuberant creativity in Edward Allan Baker's The Framer, now at the Michael Weller Theater, that is unfortunately weighted down at times by a tendency toward the mundane. His play runs the gamut from soaring comedy and inspired plotting to deflating mediocrity; but, on balance, so much is entertaining that one tends to forgive the play's flaws -- especially in light of some exceptional performances.

The folks in The Framer make the dysfunctional family in August: Osage County look pretty tame by comparison. The title character, Ronnie (Craig Bockhorn) is dying of cirrhosis. His long-suffering wife, the tough-talking Patsy (Suzanne Didonna) is patiently waiting for him to die, while also waiting for him to admit he loves her. Meanwhile, Patsy's hot-tempered, if somewhat dense, brother Falcon (Matt Walton) has a young daughter whom he believes was molested by his wife's sister's husband, Joe (David Fraoli). Falcon would kill Joe if he had the courage. He even has a dirty cop (Dared Wright) egging him on, supplying the gun and the opportunity. Still, he can't bring himself to do it, but he knows someone that he just might be able to convince to do the job for him.

Set in Ronnie's cluttered shop (well designed by Jito Lee), with the aptly metaphorical name "Frame on You," the plot's many interwoven strands unfold in fits and starts. Curiously, the first act tends toward melodrama, suggesting that we take these somewhat overdrawn but engaging characters seriously, but in the second act, the play suddenly -- and unexpectedly -- becomes a hilarious dark comedy.

Falcon, who seemed like such a dummy in the first act, comes up with a surprisingly clever idea of how to get away with murdering the man he claims molested his daughter. One then expects the tone to whipsaw back toward seriousness when the dirty cop delivers Joe to the frame shop for the kill. But there is one last surprising gag when Joe tries to act civilized in the midst of his predicament. The author's ability to get a big laugh right at the high point of the play's drama is mighty impressive.

As Ronnie, Bockhorn is kaleidoscopic in his use of acting colors. Playing a dying man plagued by terrible memories that are further infused by alcoholism, he portrays a deeply troubled, but decent man who finds some level of salvation by play's end. Didonna's Patsy is a fiery and funny foil, and Walton's colorful turn as Falcon also lifts the piece.The rest of the small cast, including Lori Garrabrant (who plays Falcon's wife), support the main players well -- all of whom are in turn effectively lifted by the tight direction of Kevin Confoy. The Framer is a play that paints a picture that is worth, if not a thousand words, at least as many as it took to write this review.