A busy Midwestern winter
Sacramento, CA 95814
Is the American Midwest taking over Sacramento stages? Capital Stage just dedicated its new venue with a drama set in a declining Chicago neighborhood; California Stage has a play about a Vietnam vet returning to the gritty Detroit ghetto where he grew up; and now the B Street Theatre has Watching Wynter, an “off-beat romantic comedy” set in wintry Milwaukee, written by transplanted Michigan native Buck Busfield.
Don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed each of these shows (though for non-identical reasons; they are vastly different plays). And I was born in Michigan myself.
But I can’t escape the sense that an opportunity is being missed. California—here and now—is a fascinating, increasingly stratified realm in which some regions are getting rich (and dominating the enrollment at the better universities), while others (further inland, with less university education) are mired in a swamp of foreclosed homes and dismal economic prospects. There’s got to be a story of unequal (and for some, unforeseen) outcomes waiting to be captured in a good new play, perhaps. Maybe next year.
Onward to the task at hand: Buck Busfield’s latest original play. Long ago, Busfield set himself the task of writing a new play each year for November/December production at B Street. His scripts have explored many different approaches: spiritual journeys, chaotic domestic farce, strained family relationships and lonely people seeking love.
Watching Wynter opens with a perpetually unemployed 30-something son—who has clearly spent too much of his directionless life playing escapist video games—being nagged by his gray-haired mom—a plump descendant of European stock who prattles on about Catholicism and movie celebrities. The part of the son was presumably custom written for David Pierini, who is excels at playing this sort of hapless-but-loveable loser. The talkative mom is played by Jayne Taini, a B Street newcomer with an impressive list of professional credits. She dominates many scenes, as she invites the proverbial girl next door to meet her overly shy son and proceeds to serve sausages and beer, even as the girl protests that she doesn’t eat meat.
The solitary girl next door is Wynter, played by Dana Brooke. Wynter is an odd one. She toots on her trombone in the dead of night. And she has her own fantasy life: She’s fascinated by Star Wars and Orson Scott Card’s science-fiction novels, and at one point, she blurts out that she’d like to be abducted by space aliens (and live with them).
Comic relief is provided by the noisy couple in the apartment next to Wynter’s—actress Jamie Jones goes energetically over-the-top sporting teased-up hair and a series of absurdly colorful, tasteless outfits (by costume designer Paulette Sand-Gilbert), while hubby Kurt Johnson struggles to get a word in edgewise.
There is plenty going on in this busy little show, though I wouldn’t say it all gels in the end. But it’s invariably pleasant, and there are some funny scenes, and it’s good to have an original comedy as an alternative to the predictable holiday revivals that most theaters will stage this month. So we’ll give Watching Wynter a conditional recommendation, while acknowledging that it probably isn’t one for the ages.