Dusk Rings a Bell -- Theater Review

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Two people who once shared a romantic encounter in their youth meet again in "Dusk Rings a Bell," a new drama by Stephen Belber ("Tape," "Match").

Starring Kate Walsh (of TV's "Private Practice," making her New York stage debut) and Paul Sparks, the play overcomes its author's propensity for overly contrived plotting with its terrific performances and affecting characterizations.

The two characters, who are introduced in separate monologues, meet cute. Molly (Walsh), a successful CNN media executive, breaks into the summer home where she vacationed as a teenager in order to retrieve a letter she had written to her grown-up self decades earlier. She's confronted by the house's caretaker, Ray (Sparks), with whom, as she eventually recalls, she once spent an afternoon making out on the beach.

The renewed attraction between the two is immediately apparent, and she agrees to go out for coffee. But their flirtatious reunion becomes awkward when Ray reveals that he spent 10 years in prison as a result of a gay-bashing incident in which he was peripherally involved.

The play, which tends to feature excessive rhetorical flourishes that are more pretentious than illuminating, is most effective in its insightful exploration of the characters' inner lives. The girlish, outgoing Molly obviously has let her professional ambitions override her personal ones, resulting in lingering doubts about the choices she has made. The seemingly calm, taciturn Ray, deeply scarred by feelings of guilt and his years of imprisonment, has a level of rage bubbling below the surface. But both are deeply attracted to each other, with the resulting liaison proving a poignant reminder of the underlying loneliness that marks each of their lives.

Under the superb direction of Sam Gold, the actors display real chemistry together, with the wonderfully appealing Walsh and the intriguingly underplaying Sparks providing ample reason to root for them.

Venue: Atlantic Stage 2, New York (Through June 26)
Presented by: Atlantic Theater Company.
Cast: Kate Walsh, Paul Sparks
Playwright: Stephen Belber
Director: Sam Gold
Scenic designer: Takeshi Kata
Costume designer: Theresa Squire
Lighting designer: Ben Stanton

Sound designer: Jill BC Du Boff
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