If there’s one thing the characters in “This” need — well, other than a stiff drink — it’s advice. In Round House Theatre’s upcoming production of the play by Melissa James Gibson, one woman is struggling with her husband’s death. Her friend is having a mid-career crisis. A married couple’s relationship is stagnating after the birth of their first child. And the wife can’t figure out how to help her friend.
“One of the things that I love about this piece is that it’s a change-of-life piece,” says actress Felicia Curry, who plays Marrell, the new mother. “Anyone going through a change of life will be able to relate. . . . I think that’s a big part of the takeaway [in the title]. It’s this thing — you can’t put words to it. It’s ‘This’ — this big thing.”
The actors know what their characters are going through all too well — they’re about the same age and have been through some of the same struggles. Here, in the form of an advice column, they offer their characters a bit of guidance.
I’m a young, recent widow, and my friends keep urging me to get back into the dating scene. They’re fixing me up with people and I’m not sure I’m ready, but I’m also not sure that I’m not ready. I guess I just need help figuring out how to cope with all the ways my life has changed.
Jane is “this sad, grief-stricken soul trying to continue, trying to make a sandwich, trying to get her girl to school, trying to move on,” says actress Lise Bruneau, who plays the central character in “This.” “Anyone who has been through that huge upheaval has faced the same challenge.”
Jane’s friends are trying to help her get past the death of her husband, but they’re not necessarily going about it in the best way.
“I don’t believe the process can be sped up. I don’t believe in aggressive healing,” Bruneau says. “Grief will take the amount of time that it will take, and coming out the other side will happen when it’s time.”
Bruneau’s advice for Jane is to focus on what’s important in her life — her friends and her child. And when Bruneau is in character, “I think that it would be useful for me to help her forgive herself for going through this time,” she says. “I think she feels like a better person would have gotten through this by now. Maybe a different person would have gotten through this by now, but certainly not a better one.”
I have a quirky, interesting career, but after doing it for so long, I feel bored. I want to do something new, but I don’t know how to start. I’ve been struggling with insecurity. What can I do to get out of this rut?
Alan is 40, single and gay. He’s the friend who always seems to be caught in a supporting role, even though he has problems of his own. His job, if you can call it that, is to wow audiences with his incredible mental gifts, which are a blessing and a curse. In “This,” he realizes he could be doing so much more.
“I think that sort of desperate need for change of some kind is pretty apparent with him,” says actor Michael Glenn, who plays Alan. “He’s single, he doesn’t have a significant other. There’s a deep desire to change all of it, everything.”
“I think one of the things that Alan wants to change is that he has a desire to do good, to live a more meaningful life,” Glenn says. “I’ve certainly had feelings like that.”
Glenn says he’s not the advice-giving type but has one bit of wisdom for his character, who is prone to dulling his feelings with booze: “While I sort of understand the drinking, it’s probably not doing him any favors.”
I get the sense that my best friend is pulling away. I just had a baby, and her husband passed away, so we’re both dealing with some major hurdles in life — but I need her support, and she needs mine. Help.
Marrell has actress Felicia Curry’s sympathies. Her character might not be dealing with loss or loneliness, but she has troubles of her own: “Because her baby only sleeps in 15-minute increments, she’s a little on edge,” Curry says, “and maybe some of the other things in her life might be neglected — friendships, the marriage.”
Marrell and Jane have been friends since college, but in part because of her new responsibilities as a parent, Marrell is having a hard time helping Jane through her grief.
“What [Jane] needs now is for you to help her get out of this funk,” Curry says, addressing her character. “It is really for you to say, ‘It’s been a year, we’re gonna help you continue to deal with it, but life does go on, and we’re gonna get past this.’ ”
But even though her character is a bit disconnected with Jane, she thinks their relationship will endure.
“At the end of the day, I believe what Jane and Merrell have is love, and that doesn’t just stop,” Curry says. “I believe after all of this . . . they’ll come out on the other side, stronger.”
Wednesday through Nov. 3 at Round House Theatre Bethesda, 4545 East-West Hwy (Metro: Bethesda). 240-644-1100. $20-$45. www.roundhousetheatre.org.