By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
From funeral to flashback: Arlene Weiner’s “Findings” starts at the end and works its way backwards.
In New Jersey, Life Coach Jennifer Cortland (Amy Marsalis) helps total strangers repair their difficult relationships, but cannot connect with her own daughter, Lainie (Julia de Avilez Rocha). Meanwhile, devil-may-care Gloria Bazon (Lissa Brennan) falls for a puppy, and, then, a man, Ray Jerome (Sam Lothard), in New Orleans. The disparate threads converge. Jennifer is Gloria’s slightly older sibling. The older sister thinks she’s in control. She has a rock solid relationship with her husband, Dr. Roger Cortland (John Michnya). She seems to have it all together, except for the deteriorating relationship with her only child.
Lainie is trying to find herself. Jennifer doesn’t know how to find a way back in to her daughter’s life. Gloria is having trouble being herself. Ultimately, “Findings” has some trouble finding itself.
For a long time, there doesn’t seem to be any real point, until Lainie runs away and Gloria has a car accident. It quickly goes from melodrama to mysterious malady of the week.
Remember those very special episodes of “Designing Women” and “Golden Girls?” Wherein, one of the stars would have a new friend with an illness? It’s a lot like that, but without the laughs. At one point, they read about the illness from the pamphlet. It’s a little bit better than having Dixie Carter stare into the camera and rattle of facts off the top of her head, but not by very much.
“Findings” has some decent moments. It passes the Bechdel Test; all the women have moments where they talk to one another and it’s not about men. That is always a breath of fresh air and should be applauded every time (until we finally live in a society where it’s not even necessary to give accolades for something that should be standard practice).
Weiner wrote “Findings” like a movie, with fast paced dialogue and quick cuts. For a play, however, there are just too many scene changes. The set is in a state of constant flux. They could have trimmed thirty minutes off the running time, if the walls and furniture would have stayed put. The movement kills some of the momentum.
There isn’t enough conflict in “Findings.” In real life, it would be awesome to have a husband as supportive as Michnya’s Roger, but it’s boring in theater. At one point, Gloria, in the final stages of her mental illness, makes a play for her sister’s husband. Even though she doesn’t see it happen, Jennifer immediately believes him. She knows it’s a symptom of her illness. It would have been so much more compelling if, even for a few moments, she doubts her husband’s story, and he, in turn, grew furious that she doubted him.
Roger is steady and stalwart. It would have been nice to see a glimpse into his darker side. Michnya, a fine local actor, has the chops to play a more nuanced character.
All the acting in “Findings” is fine, but this talented group is capable of so much more. Charles “Stoney” Richards (an actor and radio personality with an arm’s length of credits, who has been in everything from “St. Elsewhere” to “The Outsiders”) is sidelined to playing a few bit characters. For the record, he excels at it.
“Findings” can be commended for shedding light on a real disease and raising awareness. It just needs a little more time in the workshop. Given time, Weiner and director Lisa Ann Goldsmith could bring a relevant, powerful piece to the theater. It just wasn’t there yet.
It should be mentioned that Pittsburgh Playwrights spotlights playwrights from Pittsburgh and that is a laudable endeavor as well. If you buy locally-sourced fruits and veggies, you should try locally-sourced theater. The play is about helping each other. That’s what Pittsburgh does best. Giving Weiner a chance to hear her words spoken by real actors, will help her polish “Findings” into a diamond.
“Findings” runs till March 19th at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, 937 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.