Sunday on the Rocks

Dany Margolies reviews Theresa Rebeck’s play about four white chicks sitting around talking — and drinking.

Four women stay at home one Sunday–gossiping, playing board games, snacking, reading the paper, and getting majorly inebriated. Does this sound like a chick play?

Playwright Theresa Rebeck’s polished opus Sunday on the Rocks goes down easy in its West Coast premiere at Company of Angels Theatre. Gayle, Elly, and Jen live in Jessica’s home. One Sunday, they find themselves on the rocks, imbibing scotch at 9:30am and beginning to notice that their lives are collapsing around them.

As the women gradually become sober, they decide to take charge of their lives (as well as one another’s). They have lived together for a year, but they don’t know their fellow roommates very well, and they know themselves only slightly better. This Sunday, they learn new things, loosened by the scotch and at a figurative crossroads. Fortunately for them and for the audience, they are willing to speak their minds, stand still for harsh criticism, and unselfishly look after one another.

These 30-something women are fools for love, each at a different stage of a relationship, from “verging-on-the-first-date” to “four-year stagnation.” One of the subplots revolves around the fact that Elly is pregnant by a man she says she does not love, and is planning an abortion. She seeks the rationale behind all the rhetoric: “If you want to judge somebody, you ought to be able to convince them,” she says. Sadly–but not surprisingly–no one offers her any convincing logic, one way or the other. Instead, the other women wistfully suggest that Elly opt for adoption, perhaps thinking of themselves as they tell her that there are couples who cannot have their own biological children…

Director Cathy Reinking has a musician’s ear for pacing and knows how to create moments of companionable silence without making it appear that an actor has forgotten a line. She also lets one or more of the onstage characters do something other than stare at the speaker to indicate “listening”–e.g., Gayle works a crossword puzzle, while Elly snacks on cheese cubes that she spears with a dull knife (a prop that works its way into the plot).

Rebecca O’Brien stands out among the performers because she is so magnetically natural; while Gayle’s sadness is fully conveyed, the character’s sardonic humor bleeds through every line. As Elly, Kim Rhodes offers a technically strong telephone monologue, convincing us that someone is actually speaking to her on the other end of the line. Justine Reiss as Jen and Kirsten Nelson as Jessica round out the foursome.

Set consultant Paul Vogt adeptly squeezes a wicker-filled front porch and a hand-me-down living room onto the Company of Angels’ tiny stage; unfortunately, this leaves the actors no way to exit but up the center aisle.

Several questions remain unanswered in the play. What is the nature of Elly’s relationship with her mother, or the extent of Gayle’s burgeoning crush? Is Jessica truly judgmental, or only hard on herself? Was Jen “asking for it” from her boss? For these ambiguities, we can only thank Rebeck, who leaves us much to discuss on the drive home. Meanwhile, the director gives tiny clues about the characters: Gayle reads the comics while Jen reads the financial pages; Jessica dresses in the perfectly pressed outfit of a preppie, while Elly can’t seem to keep her jeans up and her top down.

Is this a chick play? You bet–for the fun of watching women behave like men. Sunday on the Rocks is also a play for anyone with a heart.

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Sunday on the Rocks

Closed: May 17, 2000