Meteorology provides abundant metaphors in Tom Blachly’s new work, beginning with its title, Scattered Showers. That forecast could describe the changeability of human relationships, and it does in this story about two married couples on a weekend getaway to a lakeside cottage. Just as clouds sometimes obscure sunshine, and storms eventually pass, theatergoers may expect the emotional climate in this two-act, four-character play to shift. And, boy, does it ever — though not always in predictable ways.
The cottage belongs to Ava and Roman — or perhaps Roman’s father, who, though not physically present, hangs like a stationary front over his psyche. The barometric pressure of the stockbroker dad, whom we soon gather is disappointed in his artist son, has ostensibly resulted in Roman’s low self-esteem, his repression and perhaps even his tepid success as a painter of one conventional landscape after another.
But there’s something else bothering Roman: his wife. The opening scenes of Scattered Showers reveal Roman and Ava’s very stuck relationship. As the two arrive at the cottage, animosity comes along like an uninvited but very familiar acquaintance. Ava, a jewelry maker in chic black and multiple silver rings, is played with simmering disdain by Susannah Blachly (the playwright’s wife). She snipes at every little thing as the hapless Roman attempts to get the grill going and prepares his easel.
Ava is angry, drawing resentment from a deep well. Roman (Chris Pratt) is defensive and irritable in turn, but his hangdog expressions and body language betray puzzlement, hurt and defeat. Neither spouse communicates without an undercurrent of — what? We find out as the play progresses. And we learn they are both as unhappy with themselves as with each other.
Enter Bay and Jules, who’ve unexpectedly arrived for the weekend at the urging of Roman’s father, a business colleague and friend. Jules (Vince Rossano) is a robust, well-heeled older man in a second marriage to the much younger Bay — or, as sarcastic Ava soon dubs her, the Dumbo-Bimbo. Indeed, the high-heeled, sexily clad Bay is flirtatious and talks like a hybrid of Betty Boop and Marilyn Monroe. Willowy Christina Ducharme embraces every exaggerated cliché of the brainless sexpot, and clearly has fun with the role.
Bay’s character is an interesting anomaly in Scattered Showers. One might wonder why Blachly chose to toss a one-dimensional ditz into this mix of otherwise “normal” and “complicated” adults, and why he directs Ducharme to play her so broadly. But what seems jarring, even annoying, at first turns out to provide both welcome comic relief from the acidic Ava and sad-sack Roman and the necessary spark of life that ultimately inflames their dulled passions.
Jules relishes the attentions of his young wife, who genuinely dotes on him, but he’s come to the cottage primarily to fish. When he heads out to the lake with pole and gear in hand, Bay wastes no time coming on to Roman. He’s shocked when they lock lips, and jumps back in guilty horror. But not to worry, Bay reassures him: She and Jules have an open marriage. We find out what that actually means in time.
It wouldn’t be fair to future viewers to reveal what ensues among this quartet of characters. While you can predict from the start that individuals and marriages will be altered, Blachly’s story does offer some surprises in its unfolding. And, to his credit, the ending is left ambiguous. Couples in the audience are likely to drive home debating its meaning, what Blachly is really saying about long-term relationships, and whether more sex (with one’s spouse or others) is the solution to keeping them alive.
Tom Blachly is a central Vermont veteran of many productions at Unadilla Theatre, operated by his father, Bill Blachly; and a cofounder of Marshfield’s Shakespeare in the Hills. In the program for Scattered Showers, an accompanying bio sheet indicates that the younger Blachly has penned 39 full-length plays. Though some of them have been performed in staged readings, this is the first of his works he has produced. It whets the appetite for more — albeit one could wish for tighter editing; pacing in the first act of Scattered Showers is leisurely to a fault.
There’s nothing new about the play’s “odd couple” format — that is, pairing one duo with another to shake up the same old, same old. Nor is the weekend getaway in which people are stuck with each other an original theme. But the familiar structure works well for theater, both because it intensifies the drama and because it can work on a single set.
In Scattered Showers, that set turns out to be one of the stars of the show. Marshfield resident Joe John built a façade of the back of the cottage, with a screen door that allows actors to move in and out; and a two-level deck the width of the stage where most of the action takes place. Occasionally, Blachly directs an actor down some steps to the floor (the dock) and through the aisle to the “lake” beyond. This device literally brings actors and audience closer while enlarging the virtual space of the story. Props man Vince Broderick’s wicker chairs and settees complete the scene.
Another starring role in this production belongs to a party heard but not seen: the weather. From a soft patter of rain to rumbling thunder, Bill Paine’s soundtrack is utterly convincing, an aural counterpoint to the emotional volatility onstage. And, in the end, the promise of a cleansing shower strikes exactly the right note.
"Scattered Showers," written and directed by Tom Blachly, produced by Plainfield Little Theatre. Thursday, September 6, through Sunday, September 9, 7:30 p.m. at the Haybarn Theatre, Goddard College, in Plainfield. $15.