Platonic soulmates and a pitch-perfect cast
By Emily Slomovits
When people think of the word “relationship,” they usually think of a romantic one. And indeed, in much of pop culture and entertainment, romantic relationships are given the primary focus and are considered the ones to strive for. But in Welcome to Paradise, The Purple Rose Theatre Company’s world premiere by Julie Marino, Evelyn and Rory become platonic soulmates despite their age difference, and though Evelyn’s adult son sees it differently, their relationship is caring and supportive.
A charming, if unconventional, story
The two characters meet innocuously enough: Rory helps Evelyn to her beach house on the Caribbean island of St. Sebastian after she feels faint at the airport. She offers to let him stay at her place for the night, and one night turns into many.
Evelyn, an active but lonely widow, and Rory, a restless wanderer, find that they complement each other, coexisting peacefully. That is, until Evelyn’s suspicious and massively overprotective son Greg, his stoic, long-suffering wife Trish, and their stifled but mischievous teenage daughter Sydney show up to visit.
As the free-spirited Evelyn, Ruth Crawford is a breath of fresh air onstage. Her combination of poised and relaxed energy is perfectly balanced with Ryan Black’s unrestricted and equally charismatic Rory. Paul Stroili has the difficult task of making sure we don’t see Greg, an inherently disagreeable character, as purely the villain of the piece, and he does so masterfully.
Stroili’s Greg prowls the stage, entitled and stubborn, and he brings the grumpiness down to just a simmer of tension below the surface, so you’ll never know what might set Greg off.
Rhiannon Ragland has what might seem to be a bit of a thankless and somewhat inconsequential role as Trish, but she absolutely makes the most of it, mostly in non-verbal, icy reactions to whatever Stroili is saying. With a lesser actor in the role, it would be a bit of a throwaway, but Ragland is subtle and laser-focused, giving the character a sensitivity and resigned grace. We get the sense that her Trish is somehow still in control of her situation, even if she’s unhappy. Sydney, from the start, has her eye on Rory, and Meghan VanArsdalen, more than holding her own in a cast full of heavy hitters, manages to deftly walk the line between sly seduction and teenage petulance.
As a director, Michelle Mountain has an abundance of talent to work with, and so her directing is largely unaffected by the heavy hand directors must sometimes have when working with actors less skilled and giving. But her specificity and precision, even with a light touch, are to be commended.
Bart Bauer, Danna Segrest and Noele Stollmack, designers of the set, props and lights, respectively, make Evelyn’s vacation home feel like just that: not quite the comfort of one’s own home, but just homey enough to make a stranger want to stay forever. Suzanne Young’s costumes are subtle but finely detailed, especially many of Evelyn’s beautiful and artistic beachy outfits. Tom Whalen’s sound design features an eclectic pre-show with many different genres of music represented, but whenever the record player plays jazz, we feel invited to dance in the living room with Evelyn and Rory.
Relatable and hilarious
Welcome to Paradise is witty and often laugh-out-loud funny, but also has real moments of poignancy and deep layers of conflict. It looks at aging in a very real, painfully funny way – some of the older folks in the audience were particularly forthcoming with their laughter, especially when Evelyn struggled to get up from a short chair early on in the show. But it also subtly refutes the assumption that young and old people have nothing in common and can’t be friends or even soulmates.
It shows that relationships come in many, many forms, and when you find one that makes you both happy, that’s all that matters.
“Welcome to Paradise” plays at the Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea until August 31st. For tickets and more information, please visit purplerosetheatre.org.