Keeping it real

Resting Place

“Can you hear me now?”

“Can you hear me now?”

Rated 4.0

Playwright Richard Broadhurst—who lives in Sacramento but doesn’t make much noise about it—tends to write plays that open in a neutral, casual, even funny way.

But gradually, his plays change shape, turning dark and serious as the conflicts simmering in the troubled minds of emotionally isolated characters rise to the surface.

Guilt and regret are frequently involved. And there’s often an opportunity for a second chance or reconciliation. Broadhurst, who’s worked as an educator with prison inmates and youth offenders, is, to a degree, writing from firsthand observation.

This characteristic applies, to a varying extent, to Freeze (late ’90s, Celebration Arts), Benched (Sacramento Theatre Company, 2001), Inside (Guild Theatre, 2003) and Crib (River Stage, 2005)—all of which we’ve enjoyed.

Keep Broadhurst’s familiarity with subject matter in mind when viewing Resting Place (his new script, getting its premiere at the Sacramento Theatre Company). The play opens in a cemetery, where we’re introduced to two strangers. There’s Paulie, an “earthy” gray-haired old gardener, dressed in a shabby flannel shirt (buttoned wrong) and wearing eyeglasses mended with duct tape, and Margaret, a tightly wound but outwardly cool middle-aged professional, whose guarded demeanor gradually loosens.

As these two get acquainted and banter, it’s easy to conclude that we’re in for some kind of kooky comedy between mismatched individuals who, under ordinary circumstances, would never have met.

But both these characters are carrying heavy baggage from family relationships in the past—scary, dysfunctional relationships strained by alcohol, abuse and abandonment.

Broadhurst doesn’t lay everything out neatly in advance for the viewer. At times, he asks the audience to take a leap of faith rather than explaining things first. Partway through, for example, a pistol enters the story (and we’re not giving much away; there’s a pistol pictured on the cover of the program book). But that pistol, at the moment it materializes, hasn’t been justified in advance; some people in the audience will wonder why and view this as a flaw.

Maybe, maybe not. People’s actions, in real life and in plays, are often unanticipated and sometimes come out of the blue. And Broadhurst is telling this story intuitively more than logically—so we’re inclined to accept leaps and lurches in the story as part of an unfolding process, as the play moves toward a decidedly metaphysical resolution (staged movingly by director Rod Loomis).

Regardless of whether Broadhurst’s storytelling style “works” for you as a viewer, Robert Sicular’s performance as the gardener is marvelous with his odd laugh, slightly coarse remarks and flashes of anger. And Kelley Weir connects dramatically with her character’s strong feelings, which have been kept largely under wraps until the play’s second half.