Late-in-life changes among a group of sixtysomething Cambridge friends is the focus of this world preem at Beantown’s Huntington Theater Company. But even if it taps into a potentially rich demographic, “Before I Leave You” proves a superficially written and poorly staged production that smacks of lower-the-bar provincialism.
This creaky, clunky work by local playwright Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro diminishes the reputation the Huntington has established in the development of new plays and writers (most recently the excellent “Sons of the Prophet”). How such a shoddy piece of playwriting made it to the main stage of a major regional is the biggest mystery surrounding a play that has none.
One feels for the actors (well, most of them) who are stuck with stilted dialogue, one-note characters and a plot that can be easily surmised as soon as it is set up.
Helmer Jonathan Silverstein (“The Temperamentals”) is also at a loss, providing rudimentary staging that leaves his actors stranded. Allen Moyer’s set design of towers of white bookcases looks like it’s trying to impose a metaphor on a play that has little meaning.
“Before I Leave You” centers on a quartet of elder friends around Harvard: Jeremy (Ross Bickell), an esteemed writer who has had some recent health problems; his chatterbox sister Trish (Karen MacDonald) who is living with her sibling temporarily; his best friend and fellow professor Koji (an awkward, wooden performance by Glenn Kubota) and the professor’s wife, Emily (Kippy Goldfarb), whom the writer has been in love with for years, unbeknownst to everyone except the audience.
The tensions between the autocratic Asian father and his likable but aimless son Peter (Alexis Camins) provides most of the conflict. As everyone frets about Jeremy’s health, several characters make well-telegraphed changes to their lives. Themes of Asian identity, responsibility and following-one’s-bliss are only lightly examined here, with neither insight nor grace.
Camins offers a bit of charm, and Bickell and Goldfarb manage to retain some dignity. But otherwise “Before I Leave” reps a Huntington low point.