By Ruth Ross
What makes a man a good father? Is it blood? Desire? Need?
This thorny question is the crux of The Good Father, the final offering of Alliance Repertory’s current season, now being performed in the intimate little black box theater on the lower level of Mondo in Summit.
Set in Dublin, Christian O’Reilly’s comic drama follows the relationship of two lonely thirty-something strangers, acerbic New Yorker Jane and sincere, if a bit “tick,” Dubliner Tim, from their meeting at a New Year’s Eve party in 2016 to the following December 31st, a momentous period for each of them and for them as an accidental couple. The initial chance meeting leads to a one-night stand that leads to a pregnancy that leads to questions about the identity of the father that leads to acceptance and ends up as—well, I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that it’s satisfying if not pat.
Michael Driscoll, Alliance Rep’s Artistic Director, once again highlights the troupe’s propensity for off-beat material, which it produces and performs to great success. With small casts, simple scenery and few props, the focus is the play, the words and the themes examined therein. The Good Father is a perfect example.
Tightly directed by Driscoll with sympathy for the two not-always-likeable characters, the production features two dynamite performances. At the center is Tim, beautifully portrayed by Brendan Scullin as a simple painter/decorator with little experience with women and a tough upbringing without a father. Employing a full-on Irish brogue, Scullin bumbles and sometimes mumbles as he tries to negotiate the relationship minefield with a seemingly more sophisticated, better educated American woman he thinks is totally out of his league. His unvarnished candor can be hilarious as well as poignant, especially in the scene where he tries to explain why he hasn’t called Jane and later when he reveals his fertility “issues” to his female counterpart. By the time December 31, 2017, rolls around, Scullin’s Tim has matured; no longer ashamed of his smaller intellect but proud of his big heart, he convinces us he’s ready to field whatever curve balls life throws at him.
Lilli Marques is equally as fine as sarcastic, sometimes nasty, often belittling Jane, the less sympathetic character of the two. Despite the brittle exterior she presents to the world, Marques is unafraid to let slip glimpses into Jane’s vulnerabilities. Dumped by her boyfriend of eight years, she reveals actions she took that probably precipitated the break. And, as an only child, she has failed to live up to her parents’ high expectations. Her most heart-rending admissions come in the play’s ultimate scene, which Marques delivers with poignancy and grace. She is to be commended for playing credibly drunk in the opening scene (top).
Gordon Wiener has provided a functional set that can morph into various venues by way of sliding panels, curtains, benches and a table and two chairs. Brad Howell and Michael Driscoll’s sound design includes music appropriate to a New Year’s Eve party and romantic restaurant. And Ed Pearson’s lighting lends atmosphere to the events happening onstage.
Christian O’Reilly has provided Alliance Rep with material that is droll and serious at the same time. He addresses serious questions with humor and compassion. Neither Tim nor Jane are totally admirable characters, but neither are they pitiable. Ultimately, each takes responsibility for his or her actions. Convincingly, Brendan Scullin and Lilli Marques bring these two wounded people to life so that we care what happens to them after the stage lights come down.
The Good Father will be performed by Alliance Repertory at Mondo, 426 Springfield Ave., Summit, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM through July 28th. For information and tickets, call 908-472-1502 or visit www.alliancerep.org. The theater seats only 28, so call now to ensure a seat.