April 16, 2009

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Courtroom drama
Review: Yellow Taxi premieres adaptation of Jodi Picoult’s The Pact
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Yellow Taxi Productions has spent close to a year working on the script for The Pact, according to founding artistic director Suzanne Delle. It’s the fourth play commissioned by YTP since it started in 2002, according to the program notes.

It felt like the cast and crew put their all into this production, Saturday, April 11. Perhaps the fact that it’s a YTP “baby” had something to do with that. YTP commissioned Cape Cod writer Jeannette Angell to adapt The Pact, a novel about teen suicide set in New Hampshire by Hanover author Jodi Picoult (Nineteen Minutes, My Sister’s Keeper).

Angell focuses the story on the trial of Chris Harte, who is being prosecuted after his girlfriend Emily is found shot. Angell cuts the trial scenes together with flashbacks of Emily and Chris and their families, as well as events current to the trial.

Angell’s version mainly bypasses Picoult’s story lines about the relationships among the four parents. The character of Emily’s father doesn’t make an appearance. Angell doesn’t go as far back in the characters’ pasts as Picoult does, and doesn’t need to for this script. Various other characters and their story lines were not used, but a cast of 10 is still large for YTP, according to Delle.

Picoult also intersperses chapters about the past and present; however, the trial was useful as a framework for Angell’s version for several reasons. It provided a way to link together the characters and history, segue from testimony to what presumably actually happened, and essentially unravel the story. The audience is — just as the “court house” is — trying to figure out whether Emily killed herself and why. Actors address a jury that would be sitting in the audience’s seats in YTP’s small black box venue — in a way, tasking the viewers with passing judgment.

The Pact’s cast is well-chosen. Corinne Proctor needed to do heavy lifting as Emily Gold, the dead teen, and make it look light and easy. Proctor portrayed a sunny personality of a seemingly well-adjusted, happy girl — key since the premise is that no one saw Emily’s suicidal tendencies. Yet Proctor also delivered in scenes where she did need to express discomfort, fear or anguish.  

John Decareau as Chris Harte at first seemed, well, like a typical athletic high school guy. He’s on stage frequently without lines, sitting at the defense table in the courtroom. But as the story goes on, his interactions with other characters and a few outbursts allow Decareau to show a deeper, developed character.

Andrea Defeo perfectly fit Gus Harte, the type of mom who is first and foremost A Mom. She’s boisterous, open, loving, and has directed her passionate nature to protecting her son.

Gail Angellis was another great fit as Melanie Gold, a preoccupied woman who wants to be able to blame someone for her daughter’s death. Angellis’ performance left me wondering if perhaps Melanie had experienced things Emily had, and if Melanie had spent years locking away destructive feelings or trauma.

The actors playing witnesses all hit their marks. Barbara Bougeous and Maria Barry, for example, were spot-on as a retired New England guidance counselor and high school art teacher, respectively.  Larry Pizza has some great lines to work with as Chris’s lawyer, Jordan McAfee. Angell’s script puts an emphasis on the perspective that a trial isn’t about truth.

Emily’s reasons to quit living are relatable but still somewhat mysterious in the play. The word “perfect” comes up often in Emily’s lines. However, the point doesn’t seem to be to completely understand Emily.

There are seven more performances scheduled of The Pact. — Heidi Masek


John Decareau (Chris) and Corinne Proctor (Emily). Brian Lawrence photo.

For theater techs
What: Theatrical Sound Design Workshop
Covers: “Sound design history ... the physics of sound, sound systems, signal flow, power issues, and more.” Hands-on work includes trouble-shooting a basic sound system.
When: Saturday, April 18, noon to 3 p.m.
Who: Taught by Ben Emerson, sound design instructor at Boston University’s School of Theatre. His sound design credits include Huntington Theatre, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Barnstormers and YTP.
Cost: $65
Register: Call 791-4558 or e-mail education@yellowtaxiproductions.org.
Next workshop: Lia Wright teaches “Method for Beginners” Saturday, May 9.

If you go
What: The Pact, play by Jeannette Angell, adapted from the novel by Jodi Picoult.
Where: Yellow Taxi Productions, 5 Pine St. Extension, Mill Annex #6, in Nashua.
When: Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. through April 25, with matinées Sunday, April 19, at 3 p.m., and Saturday, April 25, at 2 p.m.  Note that there is no performance Friday, April 24.
Cost: $25, or $15 for seniors or students.
Contact: Call 791-4558, see www.yellowtaxiproductions.org or www.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/638675.

Meet Jeannette Angell
What: Yellow Taxi Productions’ April Lunch Box Series
Who: Jeannette Angell talks about her adaptation process, and Decareau and Proctor perform scenes from The Pact.
When: Thursday, April 16, from 12:10 to 12:50 p.m.
Where: YTP
Cost: Free. Bring your own lunch.

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