Reviewed by G.L. Horton
Paul Dervis must be one of the bravest men in the world -- or one of the most obstinate. For ten years he co-directed the Alley Theatre in Inman Square, with an ambitious schedule and scant appreciation from the local critics-- until the day he announced that he was closing up shop and leaving town. Then, suddenly, the local papers seemed to notice that his theatre had been producing area premieres of original and off-off Broadway scripts that no other theatre dared, and training young actors who went on to do further good work in more prestigious venues. For a while the press was full of "wither Boston Theatre" pieces, as critics decided, in retrospect, that Dervis' producing and directing talents were an asset the to the community and would be sorely missed.
Then three seasons ago, Dervis came back: Theatre Redux. His current performance space is on the second floor of the historic First Parish Church in Harvard Square, and this time he's doing ALL original scripts, some of which he has written himself. Dervis is displaying the same theatrical virtues as before, and so far the local critics are displaying their familiar lack of enthusiasm. One hopes the Cambridge audience will make it up to him.
"Clare Through The Night", Dervis' latest effort, comes to Harvard Square by way of Halifax, Nova Scotia, where his play and its leading actress, Dawn Kimmerling, were awarded "hit of the Festival". "Clare" is comprised of two plays, "Let's Dance", set at a Cambridge junior high where the twelve year old Clare and her best friend Heather (Peggy Skelly) sit on the sidelines, and "Past Midnight", which takes place when Clare is seventeen and spending the night in the Burlington, Vermont bus station, having become stranded on the way to move in with her seven-years-older boy friend in Montreal.
The play doesn't fall into either of the likely categories of teen-angst, Clare and company being far less wise-cracking and knowledgeable than the teens who appear in sitcoms, and far less desperate and damaged than the traumatized teens who star in issue-of-the-week movies.
The nice thing about "Clare" is that it feels unsettled in the same way the teen years do, for the children and parents who are going through them. Clare's story is pushed forward by the passing of time (amusingly marked in the script by periodic announcements from Jason Taylor, the Burlington Bus Station Master), but it hasn't taken on the shape of inevitability. It is neither comic nor tragic-- yet. Clare's action -- dropping out of high school and running away to live with an older boy who may not be good for her -- will stay the same. But unless she meets with some terrible accident, the meaning of it will be up for grabs for years to come, as Clare settles into the story of her life.
Right now, her Prince Charming isn't coming to her rescue, so Clare is faced with casting problems. Her mother is supposed to be the villain. But what if Mom refuses to play? What if Mom runs away from home herself? And what about that broken home, and Clare's divorced and idealized dad? Was her parent's meeting in Paris "romantic", or "foolish" or "typical"? Are there any lessons can she take from her parents' experience? What's the difference between being directionless, and having new worlds just waiting, full of wonders, whatever direction you turn?
By all accounts, young Dawn Kemmerling is quite wonderful as Clare -- but the night I saw the play the director, Karen Marek, (who usually plays Clare's mother) took over the role, and the assistant director, Michele Markarian, took over for Merek as Mom. The substitutes were just fine. The play is written with enough stylization and verbal truth that having a middle aged woman play the ingenue, and a younger woman play her mother, is not fatal to the drama. The relationship was still solidly there, and was an especially affecting one for those of us who have been on both sides of it.