By Peter Hendra, Kingston Whig-Standard
I don't know about you, but I have, on occasion, been sitting in a coffee shop when the tone of the conversation between patrons at a nearby table changes and I find myself drawn toward it. I try to be discreet, casually trying to listen in while pretending to read whatever it is I'm holding.
I most certainly would have eavesdropped had I been in the same cafe as Dan and Jeff (Brent Neely, Matthew Davis), the two characters in the dark comedy Years to the Day, the newest offering from King's Town Players.
The two men are in their 40s and are longtime friends, but they haven't seen each other in four years -- to the day, no less -- when they meet for a coffee to catch up with each other. Sure, they've kept in touch through social media such as Facebook, but it's no substitute for talking face to face -- and, in some ways, heart to heart -- as they soon find out.
Of the two characters, Dan is the loud, politically incorrect one, often punctuating his rants with a cuss word (the play comes with the warning that there's offensive language). He's the boastful, boorish friend so many of us have, often inexplicably, in our lives.
Jeff, meanwhile, is the more reasonable of the two, but he has his own frustrations, and I couldn't help but wonder why he continued to be Dan's friend, even superficially.
As you might have gathered from the Facebook reference, the play takes place in modern times, as their conversation starts, after the necessary personal barbs, about technology, placing it smack dab in today's world. Playwright Allen Barton tries not to date the play, by having the characters discuss the newest cellphone vaguely and a movie they both saw by referring to it as the "latest film" starring the "actress du jour."
During the course of their hour and a half long coffee, a number of topics are discussed, and issues raised. Both men are in their forties, and plenty of major events have happened since the last time they saw each other. There's been a divorce, a heart attack, a coming out, and a suicide since last they spoke. For me, it seemed just a bit much in the life events category, and the coming out angle seemed a bit contrived. Both characters speak frankly and honestly, and Dan, for one, proclaims that he doesn't really care anymore what people think of him.
In a two-character play, there's little room for either actor to hide. There were a few slip-ups and pauses, but, with so much dialogue, they didn't really detract from the play -- they just reminded you that you were watching one.
Thankfully, both leads seem to have a bit of chemistry together.
This was the best performance I've seen from stage veteran Neely since I started covering local theatre a few years ago.
As for the man across the table, Davis -- who, the playbill states, is returning to the stage after a prolonged absence -- was terrific, and the interaction between the two started strong and improved, I felt, as the play wore on.
I found the play to be fairly clever, particularly in the way it sprinkles the dialogue with off-the-cuff observations, which make it seem less like a series of memorized exchanges between two actors and more like an actual conversation between two friends. And that's what makes it a conversation worthy of eavesdropping.
Years to the Day
Written by Allen Barton.
Directed by Krista Garrett.
A King's Town Players production playing until Feb. 4 at the Kingston Yacht Club (upstairs), 1 Maitland St. Performances are Wednesday to Saturday at 8 p.m.
Dan: Brent Neely
Jeff: Matthew Davis.
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