“Off Peak”: Exes on a Train

As you take your seat in the theater at the Danial Art Center at Bard at Simon’s Rock on a Friday night, you are greeted by a meticulous recreation of a section of a Metro-North train; this one headed Northbound to Poughkeepsie. At least, I think that’s what the overhead announcement said, as the commuter train’s speaker is faulty, and the communications on this train are worn by time and deficient wiring. The inaudibility of the mass transit’s speakers is a reliable laugh that provokes titters throughout the evening. The set by Sasha Schwartz, aided by the lighting design by Lara Dubin and sound design by Jacob Fisch, is impeccable and it seemed that everyone in the audience knew this train intimately.

Peggy Pharr Wilson & Kevin O’Rourke/GBPT Kat Humes

Once the lights come up, a more welcome sight to Great Barrington Public Theatre audiences is the Berkshire acting treasure Peggy Pharr Wilson who is biding her trip alone, headphones on. She is Sarita, a foreign language teacher who knows just enough Italian to get by for her high school class. Soon, the only other character in the play, Martin, played by another Berkshire acting powerhouse, Kevin O’Rourke, as Martin looking dapper (sweet costumes by George Veale) and tries to get her attention by shouting into her noise-canceling headphones.

It turns out that Martin is calling out from a time gone by. The two were lovers and hadn’t seen or spoken to each other for 17 years. There is much catching up to do and sorting out shared memories of who they were to each other and what went wrong. The playwright, Brenda Withers’s dialogue, flows freely, and Wilson and O’Rourke enjoy speaking her lines and playing with each other in this delicate suburban train two-hander deftly directed by James Warwick.

Peggy Pharr Wilson & Kevin O’Rourke/GBPT Kat Humes

The train is eventually halted on the tracks by mechanical difficulties, and we dig deeper into what happened to these two people who get along so easily and whether they could ever see a future together. Martin offers an apology and an envelope of $4,000 cash to make amends for all the rent, groceries, and utilities that he didn’t pay his fair share of when the two lived together. We see that Martin has been on a mission all along and in some ways, has taken advantage of Sarita’s circumstance being trapped. He’s here to apologize, make amends and ask for forgiveness. The play becomes an investigation of forgiveness and whether we can get past our hurt feelings. When we forgive, do we absolve others, or are we just “getting over” the past with the need to move on for our own health and well-being? How much does Sarita need to listen to this, or is this something she’s longed for?

“Off Peak” is a very likable play that is far smoother and more enjoyable than a Metro-North train which sounds like faint praise but it is a very effective vehicle for two great actors that will deliver you home satisfied.

“Off Peak” runs through 7/23 at the McConnell Theater at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. Tickets: www.GreatBarringtonPublicTheater.org

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