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On Theater: 'Reunion' builds to a frenzy

March 24, 2014|By Tom Titus
  • Michael Gladis, Kevin Berntson and Tim Cummings in South Coast Repertory's 2014 world premiere of "Reunion" by Gregory S Moss.
Michael Gladis, Kevin Berntson and Tim Cummings in South… (Debora Robinson )

Anyone who has seen "That Championship Season" will experience a frame of reference in South Coast Repertory's new production, the world premiere of Gregory S Moss' powerful and provocative "Reunion."

While it pales in comparison to Jason Miller's Pulitzer Prize winner of four decades ago, "Reunion" is a throbbing assault on the psyche as it steers its characters (three rather than five) through the travails of forced merriment as the trio of graduates from 25 years before reconnect in the same motel room where they celebrated their commencement. You wouldn't want to be the maid cleaning things up the next day.

Peter (Kevin Berntson), Max (Michael Gladis) and Mitch (Tim Cummings) were inseparable buddies back in the day. Now their once-buried antagonism spills over, fueled by booze and memory as they rekindle both their amity and their enmity.

Outrageous humor, backed by a godawful heavy metal music score, punctuates this confrontational catharsis as the three revert to boyhood nicknames (Petie, Maxie, Mitchie) for their uber-emotional showdown, richly directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt.

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Peter, now happily married and celebrating the recent birth of his third child, appears to be the most mature and rational of the three. As such, he's something of a thorn in the side of the others. Max is a recovering alcoholic, now divorced, while perennial bachelor Mitch still lives in his boyhood home, though his father is dead and his mother has relocated to Florida, where she apparently has rediscovered her lost libido.

Cummings' Mitch doesn't just steal the spotlight, he hijacks it, taking no prisoners. Channeling the rough-hewn comic Andrew Dice Clay, he insinuates himself into his boyhood bully persona with the macho fervor of an Army drill sergeant. Cummings is the strongest and most vital presence on stage, though sometimes his profane power is unsettling.

Berntson projects Cummings' opposite, a man who has made something of his life and is dedicated to his wife and children. He also is the smallest of the trio, and as such the butt of much of the play's physical humor — being buried under a mattress and duct-taped to the bathroom door, for instance.

The third member of the group, Gladis' soft-spoken Max, is the most uncomfortable of the lot. He falls off the wagon after refusing to drink toasts with the others, and once laced with alcohol, becomes as boisterous as his buddies, though never as blatantly so as Mitch.

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