Carol has everything: a nice home, a breadwinning husband, a whip-smart daughter and all the Chinese take-out she can eat. She gave up working 17 years ago, and now that her daughter is graduating high school, Carol can finally relax.
But Carol still isn't happy. She has body issues. Her husband is lackluster in bed. And now she's met a suitor on the Internet, a strange man (or is it a man?) who trades sexual fantasies via instant messenger. So will she give up everything for a digital mystery-man? Or will she stay with her loving hubby, super-cool daughter, and limitless free time and financial security?
A Confluence of Dreaming is a brand-new play by Tammy Ryan, who is considered one of Pittsburgh's most active and successful living playwrights. Ryan is attracted to geopolitical turmoil, viewed through tiny lenses: Her drama The Music Lesson, for instance, concerned survivors of the Bosnian conflict. Confluence takes place in the weeks before Sept. 11, 2001, and because we learn this right away, we are conditioned to feel impending tragedy. Planes will strike buildings, and what are these people doing? Guzzling petrol and renovating kitchens! Having Internet affairs and arguing about half-understood politics! How innocent we were!
The Playhouse REP has staged an agreeable world premiere, and Confluence benefits from good actors and capable directing. But the play has a problem: If you can't feel empathy for a woman who has everything and still wants more, Carol comes off as a banal, whiny, selfish, untested blob. Worse still, her banality and whininess are supposed to be offset by Sept. 11, which is a colossal dramaturgical cheap-shot. So, you don't sympathize with an unmotivated housewife? Bring on America's most traumatizing national event! That'll make you feel something!
The cast works hard to keep things realistic and meaningful, and Bridget Connors gives it her all as Carol. Robert Turano is delightfully hangdog as her husband, Peter, and Connie Castanzo and Sam Turich offer dedicated supporting roles. Such impassioned monologues about happiness and alienation could easily wallow in melodrama, but director John Amplas does his best to curb this impulse. If boring losers must have their stage time, the REP gives them their due.
One of Ryan's virtues is that she doesn't forget recent history. She wrote about Sarajevo long after the ceasefire, and she remembers now, nine years into our war, just how oblivious we Americans were. It's hard to remember life before Sept. 11, but Ryan has done it vividly. We wonder: Where are the Carols now? What have they done with themselves?
A Confluence of Dreaming continues through June 13. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. 412-621-4445 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com.