That said, it’s the little things that matter. The plot is simple: Sam (Bobby Miller) and Rose (Kari Ely) have been married 25 years, and she pushes him into taking a cruise to celebrate their anniversary. When they are at sea, he jumps overboard. Rose returns to their home in New York, believing she’s a widow. A week later, Sam shows up, and complications ensue. Both Miller and Ely fully inhabit their characters, although their behavior would indicate that they’re older than they’re depicted to be.
Years ago, Sam wrote a hugely successful love song, recorded by many artists over the years, called “Rose Adelle” after his wife. So far though, he’s proven to be a one-hit wonder who can’t find his muse again because the marriage has gone stale. Or at least, that’s the excuse he uses. When Sam goes over the side of the ship, it’s to try to find the origin of a haunting, beautiful melody he believes could be the start of another important song. What he hears is a Siren (Leah Berry), but this isn’t Homer’s Circe; rather, she is obsessed with a “magic box,” that she thinks is a gift from the gods. She plays solitaire on it, stopping only to do her regular job: singing sailors to their deaths in shipwrecks.
The Siren speaks like a mythological valley girl who finds the fact that Sam won’t die tiresome, until he discovers a way to get her something she needs, and she helps him to be rescued to do so. Berry is funny in this scene, as is Ely when, in a dream, Sam sees her 20 years or so down the road with gray hair, still knitting away (her knitting bag is her constant companion and she owns a yarn shop) and talking about their grandson. He realizes that he does want a future with his wife and that he has treated her carelessly through neglect and lately his own unending Facebook search for a high school girlfriend named Allison. Along the way, he also has some coffee dates with young women who’ve been attracted to his profile picture, one taken at his long-ago wedding.
When Rose has been “widowed” all of a week, she calls her old college beau, Richard Miller (John Kinney). Though Sam returns while they’re making a date, she decides she will go out with Richard anyway, and tells Sam that the two of them are “separated” (though she doesn’t think he can take care of himself well enough to move out). There’s an interesting twist on the date: The pretentious Richard, now living on Long Island, looks about 22 to Rose and to us. (Kinney is a senior at Webster.) But to the waitress (Berry) and Sam (when he arrives), Richard looks old.
To no one’s surprise, Sam decides to fight for his lady, just as he would if he were one of the mythic heroes the Siren’s presence recalls. And this is a comedy, so of course, all’s well that ends well, including a final clever nod to the Siren myth involving Rose’s knitting and Sam’s need to be bound to a mast. Sirens is far from a substantial piece; rather, it’s just a soufflé of a play, but after Ely’s recent turn as Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Miller’s direction of The Price, both heavy dramas, this show had to be a welcome palate cleanser. Their characters are stereotypes—she the Jewish mother who frets that his son’s girlfriend won’t cut the crusts off his sandwiches or bring him a glass of water in the night; he the schlemiel, straight out of later Woody Allen. Yet, they are still appealing and have chemistry together.
The set by Courtney Sanazaro makes for some awkward scene changes because of the multiple locations, but it is clever, and uses minimal pieces for maximum effect. The lighting is expansive, and Maureen Hanratty can make the blue floor resemble the Mediterranean’s uncanny blue or light Ely’s lovely face to make her look sad and haggard with equal ease. The costumes are a little comedy in themselves with Rose starting out looking like a bundled up flower child via Ellis Island and Sam wearing an odd mixture of leather jacket, alligator boots and John Voight’s trademark fringed white scarf. My favorite detail was Rose’s cruise attire: a pair of Capri pants with a hideous mattress ticking pattern. She is outrageously dressed for her date, but looks much younger, more stylish and beautiful by the very end of the play. Teresa Doggett gets the credit.
I think Sirens is like an especially well-crafted bit of chick lit—you can enjoy it for what it is, laugh along, cry if you’re particularly sentimental, and when you’re finished, mostly forget the whole thing. But there’s nothing wrong with a bit of clever escapism, particularly when it is as well-acted by all four principals, and attentively directed as it is in this production.
Sirens runs at The New Jewish Theatre through March 6. You may call 314-442-3283 or visit www.newjewishtheatre.org.
Andrea Braun also reviews for KDHX 88.1 FM radio.
WRITTEN BY: ANDREA BRUAN – THEATRE CORRESPONDENT