Do good and bad things happen for a reason? Or is everything just coincidence?
Sandy Rustin asks these questions in her 2016 play, “Struck.” Theatre Raleigh’s highly polished staging confidently mines the script’s surface humor while giving the darker underpinnings appropriate emphasis. If production and playwright don’t always manage a smooth integration of the serious with the comic, the likable cast and Rustin’s themes about family and friends win out over some liabilities.
Aspiring actress Vera is run into by a bicyclist on a Manhattan street. Her husband Nate helps her back to their apartment to attend to her bruises and scrapes. Vera tells him she feels a strange connection to the young man and thinks the accident is a cosmic signal to re-evaluate her life.
Vera decides to invite the bicyclist, James, to come over, despite Nate’s wariness and kooky neighbor Vicky’s psychic misgivings. James arrives, quiet and apologetic, bearing a gift of a subscription to Ancestry.com, the company he works for part-time. Asked if he’s traced his own family, James tells of Jewish relatives spared from Nazi concentration camps. This mirrors Vera’s own family history, proving to her that the two were fated to meet.
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What happens for the next two-thirds of this 90-minute one-act can’t be revealed without spoiling several layers of intriguing twists, including one gasp-making game-changer.
But the script needs work. Rustin hasn’t figured out how to convey historical background without characters talking like encyclopedias. She also doesn’t trust the natural humor of situations, adding sitcom-style one-liners and physical business that diminishes emotional involvement. However, Rustin’s gentle spoofing of new-age ideas about karma, along with bittersweet lessons about blind trust, keeps the audience engaged.
Director Gina Rattan maintains a snappy pace while making full use of Chris Bernier’s attractive apartment setting, which includes a realistic kitchen with working stove. The stage has a beautiful glow in Jenni Mann Becker’s lighting design, even during scene changes. Props designer Tim Domack gets extra credit for platters full of food and multiple dinner table settings.
Rattan elicits distinctive performances from her cast. Emily Kron’s Vera is needy and neurotic yet winning in her quest to find meaning for herself. She plays comfortably with Sid Solomon’s quietly suffering but devoted Nate, a believably loving couple. Liam Yates makes a strong impression as James, his oddly formal manner and quirky responses sending up some red flags.
Melissa MacLeod’s Vicky is a crowd-pleaser, her flamboyant, man-hunting characterization, complete with Texas drawl, garnering plenty of laughs (even her hippie-esque costumes by Elaine Brown are funny). But the role seems out of place with the script’s otherwise reality-based events. Derek Robinson’s French businessman Bertrand, whose connection shouldn’t be disclosed here, is a kindly soul who brings the piece to a warm conclusion.
The script’s originality and the production’s professionalism make for an easily recommended evening of captivating theater.
What: “Struck,” presented by Theatre Raleigh
Where: Kennedy Theatre, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East South St., Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. June 22-24, 28-30, July 1; 2 p.m. June 24, July 1; 3 p.m. June 25, July 2
Tickets: $30 (seniors/students/military $28)
Info: 919-832-9997 or theatreraleigh.com