A few weeks ago, we spoke with playwright Don Zolidis about his romantic comedy, “Miles & Ellie,” which just made its world premiere at the Purple Rose Theatre this weekend.
“Miles & Ellie” is a disarming comedy that takes a look back at that first whirlwind teenage romance – with all of its awkwardness, absurdities and assurances that no love before or after will ever measure up. As Zolidis promised in the interview, the events in Act One – which depict Miles and Ellie as teenagers – are seen through the lens of Ellie’s flawed memory. And in Act Two, twenty years later, those memories collide with a reality that doesn’t quite align.
Directed by PRTC Artistic Director Guy Sanville, “Miles & Ellie” is blessed with a terrific cast that understands comedy and respects the audience. The five characters in “Miles & Ellie” are played by one set of actors for both the past and present day versions. When we meet Ellie, played by Rhiannon Ragland, she is a self-conscious teenage girl living in the shadow of her glamorous, popular and (in Ellie’s POV) slutty big sister Illyana (Cheryl Turski). Ellie’s parents, Mary (Michelle Mountain) and Burt (Bill Simmons) are the quintessential upper middle class couple. Mary is sweet but nutsy. She loves her husband and her daughters, but is insulated in a fluffy cocoon of denial dyed pink by the regular application of red wine. Burt is a career politician running for Senate, and every word he speaks – even in the heart-to-heart talk with his youngest daughter – is calculated to resonate with the Republican electorate. He is a living, breathing stump speech, and a hilarious, self-absorbed windbag.
When Miles (Rusty Mewha) chooses Ellie to be the mother of his flour sack baby in Sex Ed class, she assumes it’s because he got last pick. But when Miles reveals that he chose Ellie because he thinks she’s beautiful, the two discover TRUE TEENAGE LOVE.
Of course, the history of comedy has taught us that “the course of true love never did run smooth,” and Miles and Ellie are not exempt from this strict dictum. In a brief, histrionic moment, Ellie breaks up with the clueless Miles, and it is twenty years and several bad life choices on Ellie’s part before they meet again. That’s where Act Two picks up. Ellie’s parents are the same, only more over-the-top versions of themselves. Illyana, a mother of 3.5 children, has changed completely. Or so she’d like you to believe. As for Miles and Ellie? Well, you’ll have to buy a ticket to see how it all works out. You won’t be disappointed. As Don Zolidis said, “I wrote this play for fun. I really did just try to enjoy myself…. It’s a very fun show.”
That sense of playfulness comes through. But for all that, “Miles & Ellie” is a smart, carefully crafted production that happens to make us feel good while reminding us that we all pack a bit of extra baggage into the memories we carry around. In reality, our adversaries may not have been quite as vile as we remember. Our parents may not have been as embarrassing. The carnival rides may not have been as thrilling as we like to think. But the love? True love is real. And when it’s real, it lasts.
The effectively spare scenic design is by Barley H. Bauer. The production team also includes Danna Segrest (Properties Designer), Reid G. Johnson (Ligting Designer), Tom Whalen (Sound Designer), and Rhiannon Ragland doubling as Costume Designer.
“Miles & Ellie” is now playing at The Purple Rose Theatre Company and runs through Saturday, August 31, 2013. Performances for the duration of the run are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Ticket reservations can be made by calling The Purple Rose Theatre Company Box Office at (734) 433-7673 or securing them online. All performances take place at The Purple Rose Theatre, on 137 Park Street in Chelsea.