A! Magazine for the Arts

<em>Four Places</em> at Barter Theatre runs through April 11.

Four Places at Barter Theatre runs through April 11.

Review: Barter's Four Places

March 24, 2009

** Published: March 19, 2009 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***

Legend has it that, during the 19th century, Texas Rangers about to do battle with the notoriously cruel Comanches were advised to always keep one bullet in reserve – for themselves – rather than risk capture by an enemy that prided itself in keeping captives alive and conscious for days and days of innovative tortures.
And that is precisely my attitude toward being captured in my dotage by members of the end-of-life industry.

That is also why Barter Theatre's new production, Four Places, struck me as especially relevant in its exploration of the national and personal problem of what we as individuals and as a so-called civilized country are doing about – and are going to do about – a burgeoning population of societally "useless," yet lucratively exploitive old people.

Peggy (Mary Lucy Bivins) is keeping her weekly lunch date with her daughter Ellen (Amy Baldwin), but, more than a little suspiciously, Ellen has invited her brother Warren (Michael Poisson) along and the tension from the get-go is palpable. It is obvious that both Ellen and Warren are up to something that their mother is not going to like.

Peggy's housekeeper has, it turns out, contacted the children to inform them that she has witnessed Peggy's attempt to suffocate her dying husband with a pillow. Peggy at first denies the charge, then insists that her husband requested that she try to put him out of his misery, but that she was too physically weak to consummate the deed.

The situation is further complicated by the alcoholism of both Peggy and her husband; Peggy's passing of blood in her urine; a restaurant waitress (Hannah Ingram) who is the daughter of the husband's former, probably adulterous, love interest and the personal problems of both Warren and Ellen.

The whole lunch thing, it turns out, is a typical knee-jerk reaction to a huge problem that ultimately solves nothing, leaves all the ends left untied, and both the characters and audience left with no answers what-so-ever, only more questions. Both Ellen and Warren come off as jerks and Peggy fares little better although our sympathies tend to be with her if only that she is the least objectionable.

This play contains some profanity, but I wouldn't subject young children to it anyway. Until one faces old age oneself or the prospect of dealing with aging parents, this play probably won't mean much. Youngsters should, of course, be told as much as they are able to comprehend about what the family might be experiencing with gramps or ma-ma, but this play doesn't serve that purpose.

That is not to say that Four Places is in any way impotent, only that it is a play that does what good theater should do – make us contemplate an issue we would prefer to avoid, both as individuals and as a civilized people. That is, of course, if we can truly be called civilized; our general approach to end-of-life issues makes a strong argument otherwise.

Excuse me a second ... just checking my pocket. Yep, that bullet is still there.

Four Places runs through April 11. For dates, times and reservations, call (276) 628-3991 or http://www.bartertheatre.com.