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A friendly take on fear

Stage Presence
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  June 6, 2012

WHO'S INSECURE NOW? It's Life During Wartime.

The theologian John Calvin (Peter Brown) trudges about the set of Keith Reddin's Life During Wartime, spreading his cheery take on the human condition: "All human works are nothing but filth and defilement." Each of us is, inherently, a sinner. While Calvin urges us to contemplate our own inner muck, slick salesman Heinrich (Brian Chamberlain) wants the young new guy, Tommy (Matt Delamater), to stress its corollary, the muck of everyone else: The horrid people out there make us fundamentally unsafe and, therefore, urgently in need of the security systems he's selling door-to-door. But just how secure do such measures really make his clients?

Heinrich has trained his protégé well in the fine rhetoric of fear-mongering. But during Tommy's first pitch, to lively single mom Gale (Christine Penney, with honey and fire), he finds that his best assets are his 28-year-old's candor and his beautiful mouth. Before long, the two fall giddily in love, and Tommy starts getting to know her son Howard (Andrew Sawyer, with a great monologue about teen tormenters). Meanwhile, Tommy drinks with Heinrich and their wise-cracking colleague Sally (sassy Elizabeth Lardie), learning more than he would like to know about the doings of the company.

Reddin's play, directed by Keith Powell Beyland of the Dramatic Repertory Company, might be the first ever to bring together its particular colloquy of allusions, from the Talking Heads to ee cummings. Its characters quote from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" between slurps of lo mein, and they intelligently discuss Max Weber's take on Protestantism with Calvin himself. At times this feels a little cute, but the script is mostly wry and erudite, though it's surprising when it veers into more maudlin writing later in the second act.

As the main vessel and proponent of the show's cynicism, Chamberlain is sterling — slick, smarmy, and ruthless. And as Tommy, Delamater once again dazzles with his depth and sensitivity. Though he's a bit of a stretch as a 28-year-old, the guileless animation of his eyes and eager, gaping mouth make his appeal the essence of youth. He's endearing in his ardor, and anguished but enlightened when things go wrong. "This ain't no party," sings David Byrne in the title song, but neither, after all, is this the end.

LIFE DURING WARTIME | produced by Dramatic Repertory Company | at Portland Stage's Studio Theater, in Portland | through June 10 |

Related: Review: Dramatic Rep's ambitious Gross Indecency, The highlights of 2011’s theatrics, Review: Harbor Light's lyrical, poignant Love Song, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Peter Brown, Keith Reddin, Elizabeth Lardie,  More more >
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