BETWEEN DAYLIGHT AND BOONVILLE
at the Halsted Theatre Centre
Playwright and television writer Matt Williams's first professionally produced play, Between Daylight and Boonville, which premiered ten years ago off-Broadway, has all the hallmarks of an early work by a promising young writer. Certainly the play shows Williams's keen ear for dialogue and good eye for character development, yet something is missing. His story unfolds so slowly it's easy to see exactly where it's heading long before it unfolds onstage.
Of course, Williams has set himself a difficult task: to write an accurate, interesting slice of life set in the coal-mining region of southern Indiana. He focuses on three frustrated miners' wives, who wait at home, raising the kids and trying to keep their sanity by gabbing the day away. Williams's choice of details feels right--the magazines the women read (supermarket tabloids), the things they talk about (television, their husbands, their inchoate sense of being stifled living in the middle of nowhere), even the way they keep one ear vigilantly cocked for explosions coming from the nearby strip mine.
Nor does Williams slip into the usual easy and smug cliches of blue-collar life. No one's husband is an alcoholic or a wife beater, and everyone seems to be a fully functioning adult despite the fact that their aesthetic choices--the vinyl kitchen furniture, the polyester clothing, the tacky things they read without skepticism--are definitely not the choices a good upwardly mobile, white-collar American would make. In fact, Williams deals with lower-middle-class life with the same rare and refreshing sensitivity he has brought to Roseanne, which he created.
Still, Between Daylight and Boonville feels about half an act too long, and though Williams clearly has worked hard to put what I suppose he thought were a few heart-stopping twists in the plot, including a mining accident that occurs just before the end of the first act, the story has no real surprises. To make matters worse, even after it's clear that something awful has happened at the mine, Williams's characters stay at home and continue to talk, when anyone with real blood in their veins and real relatives working at the mine would have dropped everything.
Ultimately the play never overcomes this major violation of the story's realism, which is a shame because the performances are absolutely top-notch--these actors deserve a better vehicle. Director Douglas L. Hartzell and his talented cast have thrown themselves into bringing Williams's story to life, and if Williams's script had been better, or even judiciously pruned, this would really be quite a show.
Patti Hannon, who looks something like an old, fluffy, tabby cat, is inspired as the older, wiser Lorette. Her every line, her every gesture falls right on the mark. Phila Broich also turns in a top-grade performance as the slightly silly, very pregnant Marlene, who drives her friends crazy with her constant search for a name for her unborn child. Broich's grasp of the southern Indiana accent is absolutely uncanny. Every time she opens her mouth another Indiana-ism slips out--she says "dawg" for dog, "warsh" for wash, "say-lon" for salon--and when she strings these words together into a sentence ("It's gun a be a gerl") the effect is killing.
Laura Scariano as Carla, the edgy, unfulfilled woman ready to run off if only she had more than $38 saved up, seems inhibited and self-conscious in comparison with her fellow players. Throughout her many long speeches about how unhappy she is living in the middle of nowhere, Scariano never manages to convince us that she has any emotional investment in what she's saying. In fact, Scariano keeps allowing herself to be caught in the act of acting. Sometimes you can actually see her thinking about her next move onstage, which slows down the action of a show that's already slow and makes her lines unbelievable. By the time she's finished speaking, you've forgotten what she was trying to say.
But perhaps the tentativeness of Scariano's performance is only symptomatic of the deeper problems in Williams's script, problems that director Hartzell, despite his obvious talent, could never hope to overcome. Even the best actors and the best director in the world could never hide the fact that Between Daylight and Boonville is the flawed work of a playwright brimming with promise but still quite green.