3 stars. “Before You Go” at Miners Alley Playhouse
In “Before You Go,” Jill Baker blows into her mother’s house with gale force. She’s on the run — sort of — having just given the what-for to a couple of good ol’ boys at a Tucson bar.
Her motorcycle helmet bares a red smear from the altercation. She tells older brother Mark she’s left her boyfriend back in L.A., a rocker who goes by the stage name Sammy Suicide. When Mark is able to get a word in edgewise, he tells her their mother, Betty, is dying.
Their younger brother, Pat, a priest, is with her in the bedroom. Pat’s vocation may come in handy given their mother’s condition as well as the familial confessions to follow.
The engaging family drama — onstage at Miners Alley Playhouse — announces itself not unlike Jill’s entrance. There’s a burst of energy — “I’m a play! On a stage! Finally!” — before it settles into something often clever and at times quietly commanding.
Actor and Colorado Theatre Guild Hall-of-Famer John Ashton wrote the play. He also directs it. While this dual role is common in indie film, it’s not typical of theater. Ashton serves his material and the performers well. There is gentle philosophical and theological grappling between the siblings — on opioid addiction, gun ownership, the existence of heaven and hell and more — but it is Jill and Mark’s history that will claim its place center stage.
If you go
“Before You Go,” written and directed by John Ashton. Featuring Billie McBride, Mark Collins, Damon Guerrasio, Eric Mather and Missy Moore. At Miners Alley Playhouse, 1224 Washington Ave., Golden, through Sept. 19. Tickets at minersalley.com or 303-935-3044.
Eric Mather is alert to the difficult job of portraying Mark, who decades earlier devastated his little sister’s trust. Missy Moore brings a survivor’s alloy of strength and prickliness to Jill. If Pat – “Father Pat” — seems older than his brother, consider it a commentary on the ways that Mark Baker remains stuck. Collins’ Pat is a thinking person’s priest because Pat himself is a thinking person, as thoughtful as he is pastoral.
The ensemble delivers the acerbic dialogue with agility, even relish. Some lines reflect what Jill accuses Mark of: saying “things that sound cute and clever but are often just flippant and mean.” Yes, there’s wit aplenty here. Still, what becomes increasingly notable as the three Baker siblings spend time together is the play’s wisdom. Much of it feels earned, lived.
Mark and Jill’s shared past, especially, requires nuance in order not to give way too easily, too early to fury and recrimination. Instead of playing up the typical contempt bandied about in this sort of family drama — and “Before You Go” is of a genre — Ashton and his cast gentle the ugliest material. If anything, the transgression that nudges Mark and Jill to an overdue reckoning is initially understated.
As the family matriarch, making an impressive entrance of her own, Billie McBride utters a goodly share of tart but also tender lines. The sipper of Dr. Pepper and spirits, who fully emerges from her bedroom for Act II, Betty Baker seems like a woman who’d raise these three different but connected souls. She’s flinty with a sense of humor, maybe even kind. When she sits with Mark on the couch, delivering a confession of her own, her sympathy is palpable.
The often referenced ninth step in AA requires the addict make amends. For the people on the receiving end, a mea culpa may ring too little, too late. It can seem more about liberating the penitent than easing the hurt of the people on the receiving end of their misdeeds. How Ashton and the siblings maneuver this resonates and satisfies.
The one slightly clumsy part of the play concerns Jill’s beau, Martin, aka “Sammy.” Damon Guerrasio inhabits the apologetic bonehead with physical aplomb and hangdog sweetness. That’s not the issue. It’s simply unclear if the overly familiar comedic gestures honor the subtle drama, or merely let the audience off the hook for our discomfort.
The set of “Before You Go,” underlines a different return: theatergoers to the theater. With its sofa and fridge, guitar stand and amp, scenic designer Jonathan Scott-McKean’s living room and kitchen are among the first painstakingly built sets onstage in more than a year. The rooms and the stuff of a life on its walls and tabletops add to our sense of those gathered in it. Betty appears to have moved from the Midwest to the Southwest, her modest taste in furniture and her fondness for a quasi-Bob Ross landscape intact.
Miners Alley Playhouse commits an intentional and teeny spoiler when it warns the audience that there will gunfire as well as a discussion about sexual abuse. You need only know Chekhov’s salvo about firearms to guess the handgun Jill brings into the house and places in her backpack in the first act won’t stay there for the play’s entirety. There will be a bang. There will be whimpers, too, and no small measure of worthwhile drama.
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