I was fascinated when I heard last month that the U.K. had appointed a Minister of Loneliness. It sounds very British, doesn’t it? Almost like something from a Monty Python skit. But it’s actually deadly serious – loneliness has become an epidemic, and it can cause a number of serious health problems. The characters in Alan Ayckbourn’s Private Fears in Public Places are these, as the Beatles would say, “lonely people” – trying very hard to connect and missing completely.
The story unfolds through quick, interconnected vignettes. Nicola (Laura Darling) and Dan (Stephen Henel) have been together since they were young, but the spark is gone from their relationship; he spends his days spilling his problems to Ambrose (Joseph Plock), a bartender at a local hotel. Ambrose’s father Arthur (George Filieau) is dying at home; Ambrose hires Charlotte (Colleen Lovett) to care for Arthur while he works nights. Charlotte is also the secretary at a real-estate firm where Stewart (Sean T. Baldwin) works; he’s never quite sure of the relationship between them. Stewart’s sister Imogen (Marissa Reimer) is, without her brother’s knowledge, meeting men from the internet, desperately trying to make a connection.
The show itself needs very brisk pacing from scene to scene to be successful, and the pacing was a bit off; the lighting booth may get quicker with time, however (and the final lighting cue was so deliciously crisp I can almost forgive the rest.) No set designer is listed in the program, but it’s well designed – the stage never feels crowded, and the levels used give good visual interest. Using lighting, a screen and shadows for Filieau’s scenes is a nice touch.
The ensemble, overall, does a fine job with these broken characters. Henel and Lovett are the standouts; Henel has to play drunk often, which can go into slapstick, but he never does, and yet still retains the humor in the character. He has some genuinely heartbreaking moments, as well, and plays them beautifully. Lovett’s character arc is the most interesting to watch – she’s never quite what she seems, and is a skilled enough actress you can see her inner turmoil written across her face and in her body language. Darling brings strong emotionality to her character and believability to a woman who realizes that a hard decision has to be made; Plock is enjoyable to watch, and I wish his character had been given more to do. Reimer’s character is an enigma, but once her secret is unveiled, our hearts are broken for her. Filieau has to be harsh and carries it off with aplomb; the only actor I didn’t quite believe is Baldwin – too hesitant at times, too over-the-top at others. He has a couple of solid moments with other actors, but overall needs more consistency.
Ironically, it’s in a play about abject loneliness we realize we’re not alone – others are with us in our struggle – and this show aptly depicts how modern society, with all of its ways to connect us, has left us more isolated than ever.
“Private Fears in Public Places,” Confetti Stage, 67 Corning Place, Albany; through February 18; $15-$10; Run time: 2 hours, 25 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; (518) 460-1167; confettistage.org