"To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday" at the Westminster Community Theatre is a haunting of sorts.
Michael Brady's contemporary drama is about the pain and coping associated with the departure of a loved one. David, who recently lost his wife, Gillian, in a boating accident, has isolated himself and his daughter on an island off the Eastern Seaboard, having quit his professorship and abandoned New York and its societal demands to live by the beach.
David's got the pain down but is having trouble with the coping. Even Rachel, his devoted teen-age daughter, must be satisfied with a tenuous relationship created by her father's unwillingness to discuss his turmoil.
Into this morose, self-involved existence appears Gillian's apparition to tease and scold David into getting on with his life. And when old friends arrive to see how he's doing, David is forced into a stare-down with his future.
Director Art Winslow apparently knows he's waded into dark and troubled waters here, and he also seems to realize that the play is talky and sometimes overbearing in its lessons about personal recovery. Yet except for a few lapses where the actors are allowed to get carried away with their characters' extravagant emotions, Winslow keeps things in check with quick, efficient pacing and sharp moments of humor that lighten the load considerably.
It's a credit to Winslow and the ensemble that the script is handled with a sense of balance. Brady's sentimental, even portentous, writing invites overkill. But the actors, for the most part, keep their heads. Especially good are Angela Ellen as the gentle and enduring Rachel; Andrea Stevens as Cindy, Rachel's spirited friend who yearns for David; Cynthia Wells as Kevin, an old flame, and Tom Hardy as Paul, a university chum who defuses most crises with a bad joke.
There are problems, however, with Michael Frym's portrayal of David. His approach is inconsistent--David shifts uneasily from lugubrious to whimsical to just plain nasty. All in all, he's not a very likable guy, and it's a wonder that those around him care so much.
It's easy to see why David misses Gillian, however. Lorraine McWilliams has made her a beguiling beach sprite with a no-nonsense streak. She's a charmer who both tantalizes and instructs.
"To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday" runs until Feb. 7 at the Westminster Community Theatre, 7272 Maple Ave., Westminster. Information: (714) 995-4113.