THE WOODSTOCK TONTINE
Through Sunday, July 16
Burning Coal Theatre, Raleigh
These are some of the people we’ve been waiting to meet: creative B.J. (Verlene Oates), smart Roberta (Judy McCord), vivacious Shelley (Lisa Leonard), world-traveling Trudy (Jennifer Kuzma), and Veronika (Julie Oliver), who always self-identifies as “the German.” None of these five mature women truly fit into the reductive ingenue-wife-crone troika that lazy playwrights have been fond of for so long.
In Steffi Rubin’s drama, The Woodstock Tontine, these five friends assemble at the funeral of a sixth, Valerie, a free spirit who befriended them all at the Woodstock festival in 1969. The reunion permits them to assess the bonds they forged nearly fifty years before, seeing in one another’s lives the roads not taken in their own. Roberta suggests that they all make contributions to a fund the last surviving member will inheritthe tontine of the title. Then the countdown starts as the women bow out, one by one, in subsequent scenes.
As always, Oliver is convincing as the self-deprecating Veronika, and though the playwright keeps Shelley too focused on sex, Leonard sparkles in the role. The dramatic gears initially grind a bit as Rubin unpacks a lot of exposition about things that such old friends should already know about one another. Revelations unsupported by character or plot materialize from nowhere; we never know what causes two characters to suddenly tell a third, none too kindly, to keep her hands off the husband of the deceased.
The show also contains a miscalculationin the script, Lucia Foster’s otherwise fine direction for the Women’s Theatre Festival, or bothwhen Roberta comes off as far more judgmental than the relatively placid Trudy, who is said to be the self-appointed (and sometimes self-righteous) moral compass of the group.
Still, there’s a payoff when the survivors meditate more closely on last things and these women get closer to our hearts.