Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Couple couples plays at Actors Studio

Ray and Cynthia Faith Arsenault have a lot in common. They’re psychologists with practices in North Andover. They’re also playwrights mounting one-act plays this month at The Actors Studio. And the Rocks Village couple is also husband and wife — “and I like to think a husband-and-wife team,” Ray Arsenault says — but, when it comes to playwriting, not so much.

OK, they have collaborated once before, several years ago, during the Play-in-a-Day spectacle, when playwrights build a play from scratch over the course of one evening, hand off the work to directors in the morning and get down to the business of putting on a show — that evening. “Which was kind of fun,” says Cynthia, “but we have different sensibilities in general,  and different projects going all the time, so actual collaboration happens, well, not so much.” They read each other’s stuff and offer support and critiques of their work. “It’s a good mix,” she says. “There’s involvement, but not too much.”

But this month the couple will collaborate, in a sense, after the fact, putting its work together — to, um, couple their plays — for an Actors Studio show. 


Pamela Battin-Sacks and Creston Rice in Cynthia
Arsenault's "In the Day."

That they both deal with alcoholism is not so surprising, given their off-stage work, the disease being so prevalent in society that it’s never far from the existential surface, even when receding from our emotional rearview mirror.

 The Stage 3 production of  “In the Day,” Cynthia’s first one-act play, comes just a couple of weeks after a staged reading at the Hearing Room in Lowell of “Common Ground,” her first full-length play, which focuses on a son’s drug-related crisis that forces an estranged family to deal with the mess that has become their lives. “So, yeah, it’s a busy time, in a good way,” she says.  Her go-to format is the 10-minute play. She’s written about 40 of them. “That’s a very comfortable format for me,” she says. “The longer format is more of a challenge, for me, anyhow.”

Years in the making, “In the Day” started out as a 10-minute, telling the story through a series of dramatized Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, all of which ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak, completely restructured so that it didn’t read like an infomercial for AA.

In the production, Jared has just lost his father. He’s struggling. And drinking too much. And about to lose his job. Then, out of the blue, Summer shows up at the funeral, ready to create warm memories from her shared past with Jared’s dad. Recently sober herself, Summer becomes Jared’s sobriety coach and new best friend. He welcomes her friendship and optimism.  Their unlikely liaison offers a lifeline for him and a second chance for her — maybe — in Arsenault’s astute foray into the fragile nature of hope. Directed by M. Lynda Robinson, the production features performances by Pamela Battin-Sacks and Creston Rice.

Ray’s play looks at alcohol-fueled wants, however unreasonable or unrealistic they may be: That a lot of people fixate on relationships they never get over, that they are still attached to emotionally, that they want to fix and, thus, fix their lives, also is not all that unusual. “That’s why you have all those movies and books and plays out there,” says Ray. Including this one. 

In the show, we find Jackson in bed with the woman he loves, Becca, the woman who sent him spiraling into an alcohol-laced depression 30 years before. She wants forgiveness. She wants to start over. Which is music to Jackson’s ears, but can he let go of the past? There’s only one way to find out. Glenda Donovan is directing the play, which features Steve Sacks and Lida McGirra.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: The Actors Studio of Newburyport will stage “In The Day” by Cynthia Arsenault and “An Act of Love” by Ray Arsenault The show runs Nov. 10 to 19 the Actors Studio, 50 Water St., the Tannery, Mill #1, Suite #5, Newburyport. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 for adults or $18 for students and seniors. For more information, visit newburyportacting.com or call 978-465-1229







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