It's a familiar story: A single woman who is getting on in years encounters a charming, smooth-talking fellow about her age who seems to be interested in her. But is he, perhaps, too interested? Is he out for something? Does he have a secret agenda?
We have all been trained by TV series such as Dirty John to expect such skullduggery, but in Fireflies by Matthew Barber, now at Clague Playhouse, events go in a different direction. And that is simultaneously a refreshing change and an impediment to the dramatic force of the play.
Eleanor (Anne McEvoy) is a retired schoolteacher who seems content in her home in Texas, picking figs and jousting with her talkative neighbor Grace (Molly Cornwell). The scuttlebutt around their small town of Groverdale is that there is a drifter about, and that women should be on the lookout for that suspicious guy.
Of course, it just so happens that a man named Abel Brown (Joseph Kerata) shows up and he's eager to help Eleanor renovate a small house on her property. After sharing lemonade and chitchat, Eleanor and Abel find themselves drawn together.
This is the part of Barber's script that works best, due to the talents of McEvoy, Kerata and Cornwell, under the direction of Fred Sternfeld. The dialogue feels natural and cozy, at times almost to a fault since the pacing of the piece never really changes.
When it does try to ramp up a bit in the second act, due to surprising news about Abel, the transition is undercut by some awkward writing that quickly attempts to explain away misconceptions.
It all seems a tad forced, including an interlude with Eugene (Jeremy Jenkins), the local Barney Fife-ish police officer called to suss out the identity of Abel—a comical diversion that never gets off the ground.
All in all, Fireflies is a sweet story about a late-in-life romance, ensconced in Ron Newell's comfy-as-an-old-shoe scenic design. But the play lacks the edge and energy needed to make the Eleanor and Abel pairing something more than vaguely appealing.
Clague Playhouse is a frequent community theater venue for many of the area's fine actors, directors and designers, and they are celebrating their 95th year of operation.
Through February 12 at Clague Playhouse, 1371 Clague Road, Westlake, 440-331-0403, clagueplayhouse.org.
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