Welcome to Paradise
A comfortable show
by Megan Inbody
From the August, 2019 issue
Welcome to Paradise, Julie Marino's new play, directed by longtime Purple Rose actor Michelle Mountain, is essentially Harold and Maude without the sex, death, or weirdness. It's a pleasant, amiable show that provides a suggestion of transgression while never actually doing anything shocking.
Evelyn (Ruth Crawford) is a seventy-something free-spirited widow who meets twenty-something enigmatic drifter Rory (Ryan Black) after she takes ill on a flight to the Caribbean. Rory escorts her to her house on an island. The island doesn't have much in the way of amenities, so he ends up staying the night, which turns into a few weeks.
They settle into a kind of passionate platonic relationship that, frankly, baffled me. It's never established why they care about each other. Part of the problem is that while Evelyn is given some unique characteristics--a sense of humor, a love of jazz, estrangement from her adult children--Rory is essentially a literate J.Crew model. He's generically handsome, infinitely helpful to Evelyn, and perfectly content to read whatever books he comes across.
While mostly platonic, there is an unacknowledged undercurrent of something in their relationship. Rory goes out to a bar to hook up, but Evelyn has a fainting episode right before he leaves. She recovers and insists that he go have fun. Later he tells her he met a girl and was prepared to go home with her, but he changed his mind because he was too worried about Evelyn. At one point, they discuss being soulmates. Both of these potentially gripping conversations are immediately dropped.
Tension is introduced with Evelyn's son Greg and his family, who arrive a week before they were scheduled to, right in the middle of Evelyn and Rory getting high and dancing to Coltrane records. Greg (Paul Stroili) is furious, his wife Trish (Rhiannon Ragland) is all jaded apathy, and daughter Sydney (Meghan VanArsdalen) is amused at grandma's hijinks. Greg, suspicious of Rory's motives, believes that the situation is a symptom
of Evelyn's incipient decline, and threatens to get power of attorney over her.
In between the battles between Greg, Evelyn, and Rory, Trish tells Evelyn she's thinking of leaving Greg, and Sydney makes a pass at Rory. But paradise isn't lost in the end, as Evelyn takes control of her own fate.
The acting is up to Purple Rose's typically high standards. Crawford is particularly delightful as an unconventional woman who is as timeless as she is vital. Greg is written as a bombastic villain, but Stroili manages to infuse him with a subtle anguish and genuine concern for what he sees as his mother's decline.
Overall, it's a comfortable show that celebrates the freedom to choose how to wind down your life. We should all be so lucky as to watch Caribbean sunsets in our twilight years.
Welcome to Paradise runs through August 31.
[Originally published in August, 2019.]
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