A Nervous Smile
John Belluso's provocative play about a couple plotting to abandon their disabled child is given an uneven staging by Theater Breaking Through Barriers.
The late playwright, who was himself disabled, crafted a compelling tale of moral complexity. Brian (Nicholas Viselli) and Eileen (Pamela Sabaugh) are weary of caring for their (unseen) teenage daughter Emily, who suffers from cerebral palsy. They hatch a plan to free themselves of the responsibility of taking care of her, with their scheme also involving Nic (Marilee Talkington), a single mother whose son also has cerebral palsy, and Blanka (Melanie Boland), Emily's elderly caregiver.
Neither Viselli nor Sabaugh are able to bring much depth to their roles, although the latter shows a few more shades to her work in her final scene. Unfortunately, Sabaugh is never able to convincingly convey the effects that too much alcohol and Vicodin has on Eileen, instead indicating her woozy state in too obvious a manner. Talkington does a much better job at capturing the nuances of her character; her non-verbal reactions speak volumes, and she appears emotionally connected to the material at all times. In particular, a stirring confessional speech that Nic makes about losing her temper at her son is uncomfortable to sit through precisely because the actress brings out both the anger and self-loathing that drives the monologue. Boland, who possesses a vibrant stage presence, provides some of the play's funnier moments as she emphasizes Blanka's eccentricities while still managing to show her character's genuine concern for Emily. However, all of the actors tend to step over some of their laugh lines, and don't hold other moments when a brief pause could be effective.