Wednesday, April 24, 2024


By Ruth Ross

I recently read Ann Patchett’s latest novel, Tom Lake, in which Thornton Wilder’s iconic American play, Our Town, affects plot, character and personal relationships, so this experience informed my response to Vivid Stage’s New Jersey Premiere production of Kodachrome, by Adam Szymkowicz, running through April 28 at the Oakes Center in Summit.

Set in the small town of Colchester (a stand-in for Wilder’s Grover’s Corners), where everyone knows everyone else and the slow pace allows the pursuit of life to take up as much space as it needs, Kodachrome features a Stage Manager cum Tour Guide in Suzanne (Harriett Trangucci, left), the town photographer, who chronicles her neighbors’ lives “on film” to reveal glimpses of romance in all stages of development. As the seasons pass, Szymkowicz, through Suzanne, examines love, nostalgia and learning to say goodbye.

Director Betsy True’s taut direction makes the 90 minutes we spend in Colchester fly by, a feat achieved by having four actors (minus Suzanne, the tour guide/photog) play a total of 15 characters, transformed through a costume change, the addition of a prop, and body language and voice! Most of the time, the switch in character works very well, although several personages bordered more on caricature than character, which was a bit unnerving.

Over the course of 18 “snapshots,” we witness the end of a marriage; an engagement teetering on the edge of acceptance and terror; a sad hardware store owner grieving the loss of his wife but not quite ready for a new romance with the town librarian; the unrequited love of a nerdy perfume maker for a young waitress who has her eye on an awkward policeman; and a longtime gravedigger who brings flowers and talks to the shade of a dead woman. (Right, Sarah Cuneo and Jason Szamreta)

Standout performances are rendered by Harriett Trangucci as Suzanne, Jason Szamreta as the earnest Gravedigger; Harry Patrick Christian as Charlie, the hardware store owner; JF Seary in multiple roles as the novelist/librarian/florist, and Sarah Cuneo as the Young Woman (Florence) and Waitress. All bring pathos and sensitivity to their roles—especially Trangucci as Suzanne and Christian as Charlie. These two veteran actors form the couple at the center of these concentric circles of romance: Christian’s grief at losing his wife Suzanne is palpable and convincing while Trangucci conveys the hesitation to “let go” and join the other graveyard shades is heartrending. Seary (left) shines in every role she plays; she’s convincing, natural and very likeable, while Cuneo is youthful femininity personified—with all its doubts, dreams and flirtation.

Where the production fails is in the portrayal of the Perfume Maker (Christian, right) and the Policeman (Szamreta). The overt goofiness of these two characters makes them unbelievable and silly. Wearing an inane grin and owl-eyed spectacles, Christian has a difficult job infusing his character with sympathy. And while Szamreta’s cop’s awkward “courtship” of the Waitress is droll, it’s a bit over the top to feel real. He does better with the snapshot where Robert, the would-be groom comes to the library seeking books on “how to be.” Now, that was funny!

Despite the sparely decorated stage (a park bench, a diner counter, a platform with a small stool) designed by Stephanie Gallegos, the audience always knows where they are, thanks to the projections of photos taken by Betsy True and Zachary Zawila and technically managed by Bryan Clarendon: lakeside trees, the Village Green, the Hardware Shop sign, to name a few. Zach Pizza’s lighting and Jeff Knapp’s sound set the atmosphere without being intrusive. Both help the audience orient themselves but are not obvious—not noticing either is a plus.

While the portrayal of various characters in Vivid Stage’s Kodachrome is uneven and sometimes unconvincing, playwright Szymkowicz offers the perfect answer to Emily Webb’s soliloquy at the end of the Our Town: “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.

Fortunately for the folks of Colchester, shutterbug Suzanne manages to document the wonderful things about life in a small town so that we leave the theater with a feeling that all will be well with the world—well, on a micro level, at least.

Kodachrome will be performed at the Oakes Center, 120 Morris Ave., Summit, through April 28. For tickets and information, visit online or call the box office at 908.514.9654.