Edward Allan Baker should stop trying to be a poet. He’s got the seed of a good play in “The Framer” — about a dying man trying to reconcile with his wife — but he smothers it with awkward attempts at lyricism.
Plays don’t have to be realistic, of course, but it’s distracting to hear Baker’s working-class Rhode Island characters spout flowery prose. When waitress Lorraine (Lori Garrabrant) talks about her job, she says, “I want to take it easy after a day of meeting the wants of people’s stomachs.” It takes a second to realize what she means.
The plot is just as cumbersome. No mere waitress, Lorraine has a photographic memory, which leads to shocking revelations about who abused her mentally challenged daughter. Meanwhile, her husband Falcon (Matt Walton) asks his brother-in-law Ronnie (Craig Bockhorn) to kill a suspected molester, since Ronnie is dying from cirrhosis anyway.
Ronnie would help, but he’s having hallucinations of his own abusive childhood, forcing his wife Patsy (Suzanne DiDonna) to act out scenes from his past.
And it all goes down in Ronnie’s framing shop. Watching this, much less making sense of it, is a chore.
Yet when Ronnie is alone with Patsy — and he isn’t hallucinating — Baker spins a straightforward, authentic tale about a dysfunctional couple terrified of the future. Even their quirks are effective, such as Patsy telling everyone who calls that she’s “just waiting for Ronnie to die.” It’s clear that line is only tough-girl posturing.
DiDonna does wonders with her material, creating a woman who makes love an aggressive act. Patsy barks at her husband to take his medication, but she touches his arm while she does it. She cries about her problems, but only while she’s vigorously cleaning.
Director Kevin Confoy flatters the entire ensemble by controlling the volume. Some arguments are whispered and some declarations are made in an inside voice, making the perfs more varied than the script.
Set designer Jito Lee mirrors the understatement, cluttering the frame shop without going overboard. Daniel Kluger’s sound design however, is confounding. A jittery, film-noirish saxophone plays during scene changes, and the post-show tune is classic R&B, yet neither reflects the world onstage. If she heard that music on the radio, Patsy would probably curse and turn it off.