On paper, Richard Dresser's Augusta sounds a whole lot more dreary than it turns out to be. Thanks to some fine acting and smooth direction, this comedy about the travails of the lower-income working class not only entertains, but reveals subtleties about the diminished power of blue-collar workers in Dresser's story.
Middle-age Molly (Patti Davis Suarez) has been cleaning other people's houses for years, earning just enough to scrape by on. After being promoted to "team leader" by her sleazy new boss, Jimmy (Richard Trujillo), Molly meets Claire (Kerry McCue), a young slacker who's been assigned to her work crew and who appears to be willing to do anything to get ahead in her small life. Drama ensues, punctuated by comic outbursts from oily, fast-talking Jimmy that, in a lesser production, might play like outtakes from The Office, but here seem entirely new.
Dresser's clever wordplay and sitcom-styled setups distract us from the true natures of the people whose lives we're watching unravel, and just when you think you know who's amoral and who's true-blue, Dresser pulls a switcheroo that had last Sunday's matinee audience groaning out loud. (Sorry to be vague here, but I don't want to give too much away. Go see the play; you won't be sorry you did.)
In the new Actors Theatre production of Dresser's play, Ron May directs Trujillo to a frenetic performance that makes the most of this supremely unsubtle middle-management slimeball. The huzzah in the windup comes courtesy of Suarez's restrained take on a woman who's deeper than she appears. And McCue resists the urge to play Claire as a dimwitted strumpet, bringing us instead a young woman who's struggling to start the life she's always imagined for herself.
Dresser intends Augusta as the first of a trilogy about happiness in America, and after seeing this first installment, I sincerely hope he completes the others. With any luck, Actors Theatre and Ron May will be involved in bringing the next two chapters of Dresser's saga to Phoenix.
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