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A mixed Los Meadows

by Jules Becker
Thursday Jun 29, 2017

bert Cope and Gale Argentine in Boston Public Works' production. (Courtesy Paul Fox/ Boston Public Works)
bert Cope and Gale Argentine in Boston Public Works' production. (Courtesy Paul Fox/ Boston Public Works)  

Los Meadows, Boston Public Works Theater Company, Plaza Black Box , Boston Center for the Arts, through July 1. 617-933-8600 or bostontheatrescene.com


To paraphrase a famous insight from Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," attention must be paid to vulnerable humans. That kind of attention is just what Boston Public Works Theatre Company's acting artistic director Laura Neubauer is giving to homeless heroine Perdita Barry in her new effort "Los Meadows.'' In her playbill "Artistic Director's Welcome,'' Neubauer describes the real woman who inspired Perdita as one with "a clear need for connection and humanity." The earnest playwright intends "Los Meadows" to be her answer to the question "What happened to her family?" Unfortunately, Neubauer's wandering play often seems as lost in its Boston Center for the Arts premiere as its unfocused protagonist.

Major contributors to that lack of focus are Perdita's back story and the need for fuller characterizations of her three daughters. Early on, design factors sometimes have more to say about Perdita and her family than Neubauer's dialogue, in which the voice of her late husband Walter speaks of the couple's gambling in Las Vegas (a city the playwright calls "my old stomping ground"). Andrew Duncan Will's vivid sound design and PJ Strachman's thoughtful lighting do bring immediacy to an accident that leaves Perdita a widow. Ryan Bates' well-detailed scenic design

Questions may kick in between the lines for many theatergoers as daughters Liz, Cher and Tia talk about their wandering mother. Tia speaks of working for the Peace Corps but appears to have an ongoing problem with drugs. Cher despairs about an unsuccessful marriage and talks about child custody issues. She also has a fondness for liquor nip bottles. Liz may be the most grounded of the siblings as she has dealt with their father's funeral and his will and tried to deal with matters involving their mother and her welfare.

Even when more information is revealed about the siblings, audience members may find it hard to sympathize with them or identify with them. Regularly brief references to the men and children in their lives add up to little more than name-dropping. The sisters speak about the importance of having Mom home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but ultimately director Olivia D'Ambrosio is not able to raise the better but also unsatisfying home-centered second act to the level of a truly affecting family reunion. Gale Argentine has her moments as lost soul Perdita, but Neubauer's very uneven play will have theatergoers searching for evidence that a woman living on the streets out of the contents of a store carriage has suddenly turned into a secure person able to safeguard her own health and well-being.

The best scenes in a very mixed bag are those in which Argentine and Robert Cope as a music-centered homeless man curiously named Otto Walters share moments of understanding and empathy. Cope does well evoking Otto's low-key philosophy of life. Lydia Jane Graeff initially convinces as Liz, yet even she struggles with a role that needs more dimension. Amie Lytle as Cher and Kira Compton need more subtlety to help roles that largely come across as caricatures.

Neubauer's play is the last of seven new plays presented by Boston Public Works Theater Company. The laudable three-season project, during which playwrights have produced their own work in the Hub, has resulted in such provocative and imaginative fare as "From the Deep" and "Hard and Fast." Regrettably the same cannot be said about "Los Meadows."

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