WHEN THEY SPEAK OF RITA
Say Good Things
by Cynthia Citron
Rita Potter calls herself a “brown dwarf”—a star-like object with little mass that emits almost no light. In fact, Rita Potter is a brown dwarf only because she doesn’t know HOW to be a star. But she certainly yearns to be.
Rita Potter is the central figure in Daisy Foote’s play “When They Speak of Rita,” which is currently having its west coast premiere at the Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice. As Rita, Joanna Daniels expertly captures the accent and the nuances of small-town New Hampshire as well as the inchoate angst of an unsatisfied housewife. Under-educated and poor, she works cleaning other peoples’ houses and implores her son and his girlfriend to go to college and give themselves a chance for a better life than she has had.
Her husband Asa, meanwhile, is a well-meaning but insensitive rustic who takes her for granted and belittles her dreams. Steeped in his role as Head of the House and Primary Lawgiver, he tramples on her desire to become a caterer to the wealthy families in town. He has reason to be cautious, however: she has attempted several business ventures in the past, but has lacked the skill or the passion to make them successful. Dan Verdin brings a stubborn machismo as well as a fine pathos to this ultimately sympathetic and vulnerable man.
As their son Warren and his girlfriend Jeannie, Scott Jackson and Rachel Avery are mirror images of the elder Potters, with significant and telling differences. Warren, unlike his father, is ambitious and driven, and ultimately makes a success of his business. And Jeannie, who has given up her ambition (and her scholarship to college) to marry him is, unlike her mother-in-law, blissfully content as a wife and mother.
As the final character in the mix, however, Michael Redfield walks away with the show. He is absolute perfection in the small but pivotal role of Warren’s school friend Jimmy.
“When They Speak of Rita” is set in the present, although it may seem a little out-of-date for those of us who lived through the feminist upheavals of the ’70s and ’80s. But we can certainly empathize with Rita’s unease and her feelings of insignificance, her desire to do something memorable, but having no sense of what that might be. In that sense, Foote has written a totally modern play—one that might have been written by Ibsen, were he alive in this century.
. Foote, incidentally, comes by her talent nurturally. Her father is Horton Foote, who wrote “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” “Trip to Bountiful,” and “Tender Mercies,” among other award-winning plays.
“When They Speak of Rita” is directed with a fine feel for the words as well as for the space: a nearly claustrophobic small theater richly enhanced by Zack Bunker’s wonderfully cluttered set. The small stage houses a kitchen, a wallpapered hallway leading to the front door, and, in an upper corner, a garage where some of the action takes place. The “upstairs” is designated by a floral carpet runner which leads from the stage, down the central aisle, and out the front door of the theater.
“When They Speak of Rita” will continue at the Pacific Resident Theatre, 705 1/2 Venice Blvd. in Venice, through August 7th.