Seven year old Ashley is dead. We know this because a huge grave stone dominates the set for the world premiere of “Resting Place, a new play by local playwright Richard Broadhurst (whose play "Benched" was given its world premiere at STC in 2001 and whose holiday comedy "Crib" was performed at River Stage in 2005).
Ashley’s grave is the meeting place for Ashley’s mother Margaret (Kelley Weir), who seems to be a very uptight and angry woman and the cemetery’s groundskeeper Paulie (Robert Sicular), a man of limited intelligence and education, lonely and desperate for company.
The first meeting does not go well. Margaret is angry because she feels Paulie is desecrating her daughter’s grave, though softens somewhat when she discovers he is the groundskeeper. When she tries to end their encounter, he seems desperate to keep her there, talking.
As the two talk, it becomes apparent that both have secrets they have buried and that both need a “resting place” where they can just get away from everything.
Paulie reveals a childhood of neglect and abandonment, a life lived in detention centers and then, saddest of all, his decision to rob a bank to get money for medical care for his grandmother. Prison, he confesses, taught him a trade and when he was released, he deliberately violated his parole so he could go back to prison and continue his education in gardening.
Margaret eventually reveals the marital abuse and alcoholism that drove her to leave her husband and the circumstances of Ashley’s death, for which she blames herself. She also confesses to estrangement from her younger daughter.
A casual friendship develops between the two, though each has more to reveal which will result in plot twists the audience does not see coming.
In attempting to hold on to Margaret’s friendship, Paulie suggests the two assume fantasy identities, Paulie a pirate, and Margaret “Monique,” a woman of mystery. This was perhaps the weakest part of the plot.
Though this is a serious story, there are lots of funny lines. In places the script seems not to ring true and it’s difficult to know if this is the part of the script itself or of Weir’s delivery, since it is her character who is the less believable of the two.
Sicular is excellent as a man who has never had to learn proper manners, but who is trying to be polite to this very proper woman. His persona is enhanced by his costume, the rough-hewn clothing of a man who is accustomed to working with the soil. Costumer Jessica Minnihan has added perfect little touches, like the heavy horn-rimmed glasses held together with duct tape.
Weir’s Margaret is an uptight woman whose grief over her daughter’s death is buried deeply and gives her a hard edge. The edge cracks at one point and anyone who has lost a loved one, particularly a child, will be able to identify with her pain.
The third member of the cast is a non-speaking child, dressed, head to toe, in a skeleton costume. The role is shared by Jack Hughes and Andrew Standriff.
Scenic Designer, Steve Decker, has created a realistic cemetery, somewhat hampered by the short space between the back of the stage and the front row of seats. In order not to step on “graves,” the actors always seemed to be close to stepping on the toes of those sitting in the front row.
Lighting Designer Dale Marshall has done some wonderful work, including a beautiful “morning,” as Paulie wakes up from a night of drinking. The “sun through the leaves” effect was perfect.
“Resting Place” is a show about coming to terms with the secrets in our past and learning to deal with them, to forgive ourselves for our past transgressions, give ourselves a “do over,” and to move forward. `
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