Reunion: Theater Review

Three buddies from a working-class suburban Boston high school rendezvous in a motel room to party after their 20-year reunion. Despite the secrets revealed, the impact is less than revelatory. 

Three high school buddies reunite a quarter century after graduation to get drunk and reminisce about their younger selves.

It could be Pinter or Beckett in Newburyport: two guys in a room, Peter (Kevin Berntson) and Max (Michael Gladis), each nervous in his own way, await the tardy arrival of a third, Mitch (Tim Cummings), who arranged the party but is, as ever, running late. Unsurprisingly, he wants to make an entrance. The three high school pals, once so close, haven’t seen one another in 20 years, and Mitch has made certain that they return to the very space in which they last partied and parted.

Or, it could also be a male bonding Hollywood comedy: everyone is older and either feeling it or pretending not to. The sense of lost connection, of unreplicable intimacy, and the desperate urge to jettison inhibitions to free themselves for a renewed adolescent acting-out of macho masculine hijinks exerts a stubborn power.

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Thankfully, Reunion is neither, despite a little of both. Playwright Gregory S Moss (whose House of Gold was well-received two years ago) says in the program interview that he likes “to describe it as Tennessee Williams in Mamet drag. Or a Smiths song played by Metallica.” Despite such wishful thinking, Moss knows to make scenes that otherwise risk being standard-issue have a zing to the dialogue that makes every naturalistic gesture also seem askew and out-of-whack, a quality underscored by the redoubtable designer Sibyl Wickersheimer’s set, convincingly grimy in detail yet ineffably suggestive of a surreal location.

The well-cast actors too have come more than ready to play, perhaps with a relish more eager than their characters actually feel. These are larger-than-life portrayals that goose the goings-on from routine setups to theatrically charged, dynamic interactions. Cummings, who just won a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Leading Performance for last year’s The Normal Heart revival, is especially magnetic as he flails about with testosterone-fueled, aggrieved aggression, projecting both violent menace and a wounded vulnerability without changing gears.

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Nevertheless, the high level of technical skill evident in both the writing and production still don’t overcome the fundamentally familiar thematic material of coming-of-age just barely better late than never. It’s entertaining in its immediacy and intelligence, satisfyingly vulgar and sensitive, yet neither outrageous nor original nor penetrating enough to make an indelible impression beyond that of a slice of life served up as a good enough time at the theater. 

Venue: South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa  (runs through Mar. 30)

Cast: Kevin Berntson, Michael Gladis, Tim Cummings

Director: Adrienne Campbell-Holt

Playwright: Gregory S Moss

Set designer: Sibyl Wickersheimer

Lighting designer: Elizabeth Harper

Sound designer: M.L. Dogg

Costume designer: Stephanie Kerley Schwartz