What happens when two socially awkward kids who fall in love in high school, then break up over a perceived betrayal, meet again 20 years later? Is it possible that their thwarted romance will be rekindled? Or have they changed too much for that to be possible? That’s the tantalizing premise of playwright Don Zolidis’ comedy, “Miles and Ellie”, that opened Thursday on the Frank and Katrina Basile stage at Phoenix Theatre in the Arts & Theatre District in downtown Indianapolis.
“Miles and Ellie” is directed by actor Bill Simmons, a Phoenix veteran, who was in the cast of the Purple Rose Theatre’s production of the play. Simmons’ instincts as a performer are reflected in the talents of the actors he cast and his direction of a play; he is quite familiar with it, having played in 65 performances of it himself. The stellar Phoenix cast includes Lisa Ermel (Ellie), Miles (Zachariah Stonerock), Paul Hansen (Bert), Jolene Moffatt (Mary) and Carrie Schlatter (Illyana).
Act 1 of the play depicts the eight month relationship of Ellie and Miles, who are initially brought together via a health class assignment which requires that they play the roles of parents of a baby, using a pacage of flour as a prop. Ellie’s home serves as the setting for the story and that is where we meet her June Cleaver of a mother, Mary, her right wing politician father, Bert, and her mean girl sister, Illyana. In the beginning, misfits Ellie and Miles constantly bicker as they struggle to complete the assignment but eventually and inexplicably, they two find themselves in love with each other. Sadly, however, things unravel when Ellie, who reaches out to Miles after an argument, discovers him from afar, kissing another girl
At the beginning of Act 2 its Thanksgiving at Ellie’s parents’ home to which she has returned after a disastrous marriage that has ended in a divorce. After suffering the blunt “I told you so” judgment of her insensitive parents, Ellie is further humiliated when her sibling rival, Illyana, who by this time has transformed into the perfect wife, with the perfect husband and three perfect kids, joins her parents in lording over her. Enter Miles, who Ellie’s mother has run into earlier and has been invited to join the family for dinner. By this time, Miles has become a successful computer game developer and is still single. We find out that Ellie already knows all about Miles because she has been keeping track of him on Facebook, with the implication made that she is still carrying a torch for him.
Ermel, Stonerock, Hansen, Moffatt and Schlatter were pitch perfect in terms of their timing and their interaction with one another. Together they made for a well-oiled ensemble.
Ellie is sullen and morose as a victimized teenager and emotionally stunted as an adult, with a personality that is difficult to sympathize with. Still, Ermel managed to make her damaged character likeable despite her neurosis.
Stonerock turned in a very effective performance as Ellie’s long-suffering and ineffectual teenage boyfriend Miles who puts up with her overbearing, often irritating behavior and later, and later as the calm self-assured adult version of his character. It is difficult to believe that someone as kind hearted and patient as Miles would fall for someone with as much baggage as Ellie has, but therein lies the unlikelyhood that makes the play funny.
When it comes to funny, Moffatt wins the blue-ribbon as Mary, Ellie’s all about appearances mother, prone to baking cookies and living in denial. After delivering a rapid, martini fueled, and cruel disclosure during which her character inappropriately bends Miles’ ear about Ellie’s misfortunes as an adult, right in front of her helpless daughter, Moffatt received a spontaneous ovation from an obviously delighted audience.
Hansen, sweater vest and all, played Ellie’s pompous and opinionated conservative father Bert to a tee, masterfully capturing the hubris of a callous, dishonest politician who judges others but in reality lives his private life as a hypocrite.
Rounding out this fine ensemble was Schlatter, who played Ellie’s pretty, popular older sister, Illyana, the cheerleader who bullies her as a teenager and rankles her as an adult because she remains her parents’ favorite child, and is the one who she is constantly, negatively compared to and is still bullied passive aggressively by.
Linda Janosko’s living room set, Laura Glover’s lighting design, Ben Dobler’s sound design (including a marvelous pre show compilation of ‘80s music), and Ashley Kiefer’s costumes combined to create the show’s impressive production elements and heightened values.
A few situations featured in Zoldis’ script stretched credulity but was it was fairly easy to suspend belief in order to enjoy this amusing story rife with wacky characters, titillating revelations and awkward discomfort, making it ideal fodder for the sort of off-beat comedy that no one does better than the Phoenix.
Tickets for entire first weekend of “Miles and Ellie” are $18.00 per person. All remaining performances are $28.00 per person, or $18.00 for anyone 21 & under. Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at (317) 635 - 7529 or by visiting www.phoenixtheatre.org.
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