Ordinary People a Step above the Average

Actor’s Theatre of New Orleans Presents Dramatization of Judith Guest Novel

Saturday August 11, 07
by Tricia Danflous, StageClick.com

A cold-hearted mother, caring and confused Dad, mixed-up kid with suicidal tendencies – resembles every ordinary family you know, right? Meet the Jarretts, a family torn apart by the death of one son and the guilt induced suicide attempt of Conrad, the other child.

You’ve seen the movie (Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, Timothy Hutton and Judd Hirsch – 1980), read Judith Guest’s compelling novel, now Ordinary People, dramatized by Nancy Gilsenan, is on-stage at Actor’s Theatre of New Orleans (ATNO) in a not-too heavy, but thought-provoking production. ATNO’s intimate, traditional stage format is apropos for the two-act drama as it glides back and forth from the Jarretts at home, to Conrad’s school and his therapist’s office. Director Rene J. F. Piazza uses limited space, carefully constructed dialogue and well-placed lighting as he guides a handful of talented actors and a few adequate ones, through a series of vignettes depicting the life and troubles of another family in crisis.

The dramatization belongs to Conrad, the son looking for control and a perfect life as he deals with perceptions, advice and lack of understanding from friends, family, a jerk of a coach and mild-mannered therapist. On opening night (August 10, 2007) high school student Andy LaRocca demonstrated no jitters, no lack of rehearsal and a keen interpretation of teenager in turmoil. On stage in all but a few scenes, LaRocca is commanding and credible. He looks and moves like a young tinged with anguish and guilt associated with survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder. Although there a few instances where he sounds like he is reciting rather than acting, particularly in the interaction with therapist (Tim Bellow), he is sure to prove more at ease as the show moves forward. LaRocca shines in his angry scenes, especially as he confronts his unemotional mother and himself while trying to get order to his life. He is equally convincing in the conversational scenes with his dad, exhibiting just enough teenage angst but recognition that he is at the center of family tensions. It will be interesting to see if LaRocca can maintain this quality performance as he matures on the local stage.

Randy Maggiore portrays father Cal Jarrett in an easy-going style as does Bellow in his role as Doctor Berger. Their one scene together as Cal tries to figure out what is happening to his family and himself is the most natural in the show. Maggiore and Bellow are clearly the most comfortable and experienced members of the cast.

Morrey McElroy is chillingly cold and sterile in her performance of mother and wife Beth Jarrett. Her stiff posture and clipped delivery not only befits the role but also provides additional empathy and focus on her son’s conflict.

Supporting cast members are adequate in their small, but contribution roles. Shannon Stutz as Conrad’s girlfriend Jeannine is a pleasure to watch. Matt Carroll as Coach Salan is the cartoon-like version of a man who lives for a win on the playing field. You can look forward to hearing a speech pattern that seems a cross between a New Jerseyite and a N’Awlins yat.

The last scene of Ordinary People leaves you hanging – what will happen to this family? As Judith Guest must have intended in the original novel, you will questioning what you would do if this was your family. In ATNO’s presentation, you will leave with an image of Conrad and his mother in your mind. Which one will you worry about the most?

Back Row Facts:

Length of Play – two hours including one 15 minute intermission

Language and Lewdness – no bad language, no suggestive references.

Family Fitness – High school age and older will appreciate the messages of this production. Not a comedy and younger kids would tend to be bored and confused.

Congratulations – The opening of Ordinary People coincides with the Actor’s Theatre of New Orleans second anniversary.