Freshwater Theatre was ready to mount this play in 2020 but then the pandemic put those plans on ice. Now it’s spring of 2022, the ice has melted, and the play must go on. For women of a certain age, The Bucket List of Booze Club is the perfect show for a night out with your oldest girlfriends. I’m not trying to sound sexist, I just think that’s the group for whom this play will resonate the most. That said, I, as a man of a certain age and my 18 year old son, whom was my companion last night, both thoroughly enjoyed the production. Fans of shows like Steel Magnolias and The Dixie Swim Club are going to find themselves in familiar but welcome territory here. The story of four friends from high school, now in their 50’s, each facing the realities of the path they chose in life. Wisely, the theatre company has kleenex packets for sale before the show and at intermission, there will be tears, but before the tears there will be laughs a plenty.
The titular Booze Club is a group of four women who have known each other since high school or earlier, now in their early 50’s. They gather weekly to try a new and different adult beverage at the request of Collette, who is battling ovarian cancer, and believes you should try everything once. Bringing the weekly bottle is Jennifer who is a successful lawyer who put career before love and isn’t too impressed with who’s left in the dating pool now. Amy is the homemaker who brings a different homemade dessert each week, and finally there is Mary Ann who is dating a man almost 20 years her junior. Present for the meetings of the Booze Club is Collette’s daughter Ree-Ree, who looks up to and followed in her Godmother Jennifer’s footsteps becoming a lawyer, which has left Collette feeling a little jealous. Providing a hint of the male perspective are appearances by Mary Ann’s boyfriend Eric and Collette’s ex-husband Barry who dropped out of her and Ree-Ree’s life after their divorce. From that description of characters you can probably sense the general outline of where the story goes, and from whence the humor and tears come.
Written by Maureen Paraventi the plays considerable strengths and minor weaknesses are in the writing. Paraventi’s dialogue flows naturally establishing the characters and is filled with genuine humor. Opening with a scene of Jennifer on a first date with someone from an online dating app. The man’s dialogue in the scene consists entirely of “blah blah blah blah”. Lazy? Nope, brilliant! It opens the play with wit in a scene that establishes a conceit used sparingly throughout of breaking the fourth wall as Jennifer translates what her date is saying. From that scene we flow naturally into a meeting of the Booze Club where Jennifer is recounting the date to her friends. A perfect transition from the writer, though the transition on the stage takes longer than it should. From the notes in the program, I gleen that this is director Rachel Flynn’s first time directing a full length play. I think the transitions lack the confidence of a more experienced hand. Paraventi has already established in the first scene that the characters can break the fourth wall. Rather than dimming the lights for about 10 seconds too long have the character change some costume elements as she walks to the adjoining set already in dialogue with her friends. I think that pattern would have eliminated the slight sense of interrupted flow that pervades the production. Aside from the transitions Flynn shows that she knows how to direct actors and I think she has a career ahead of her in direction if she chooses to pursue it. The writing opens strong and maintains its naturalistic dialogue throughout, construction wise decidedly a play of two halfs. The first half has an easy flow, craftily developing the characters and their relationships. The second half seems more forced in that it has so many beats to hit story wise losing a little of what makes the first half so enjoyable. That said it still delivers plenty of laughs and the dramatic moments land solidly as well. Yes, you will want to fork out for the kleenex packets for sale in the lobby.
The cast adds to the natural feel of the dialogue creating a sense that these really are old friends. As Jennifer, Jean Wolff is a force of nature on stage, her comedic timing and stage presence launch us into the play on just the right footing. She has the showiest role and is at her best when she is holding court and being center stage. Two performances that are noteworthy more for their reactions than there actions are are Julie Ann Nevill as Amy and Ali Daniels as Ree-Ree. Watching these two as they reacted to the other performers was a reminder that good acting is listening and reacting. They both conveyed more genuine emotion in their non-verbal reactions than the other performers did during their dialogue scenes. Wini Froelich as the more and more weakened Collette was at her best when she was displaying her annoyance with Jennifer. The weary bitchiness of those exchanges were her best moments.
The Bucket List of Booze Club runs through May 15th at The Crane Theatre in Northeast Minneapolis for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.freshwatertheatre.com/bucketlist/
Don’t miss a single review from The Stages of MN, on your computer from the home page on the right enter your email address and click subscribe, on your mobile device scroll to the bottom of the page. Also Follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesonmn.