South Park Theatre offers what may seem an obscure play by an unknown author. But actually The Melville Boys, by Canada's Norm Foster, is said to be his best-known play up North, and has enough fame to have run off-Broadway in 1992.
Audiences won't get these facts, nor any other useful information about the production's source material, in the program book, a standard failing of semi-professional local theater companies. Audiences will, however, get a well-acted, well-directed version of a sometimes obvious, sometimes interesting script.
Foster places his four-character, one-set story in a lakeside cabin, location unspecified. Lee and Owen Melville have come there to fish. Instead they get caught up in sudden relationships with two local sisters, Loretta and Mary. Older Lee and Mary are both married. Younger Owen is on the verge of becoming so, but finds unattached Loretta a potential alternative to fidelity.
After much banter and some useful exposition, the play looks headed nowhere special until it becomes clear that Lee is terminally ill. He appears to have less trouble with that fact than does Mary when she learns it; this and other serious topics bring them closer together. Owen, too, is disturbed by Lee's impending death, and has avoided dealing with it. But the setting and the circumstances cause the brothers to reveal deeper things to each other and to themselves.
Eventually the audience-friendly humor gives way to something worth thinking about. While Foster takes a long time getting there, and says nothing particularly insightful or profound about facing an untimely end, he does create characters with not-always-predictable personalities. Or so it seems, at least, given the performances by this uniformly believable cast. Bill Crean, in particular, presents a finely nuanced version of Lee with warmth, good sense and integrity. Dalton Pecosh capably interprets Owen's immaturity and eventual more mature self-discovery. As Mary, Mary Randolph displays credible passion and personality, while Kauleen Cloutier succeeds in making Loretta a person whose flirtiness is not the whole story; she shows good sense, too.
Director James Critchfield has paced and staged everything with clarity and sincerity, doing a lot to keep the more obvious parts of the script from looking too patent.
By the way, author Foster has written 34 works in 22 years; The Melville Boys, from 1984, is only his second play. Evidently, he is Canada's most produced current playwright.
The Melville Boys continues through Sept. 23. South Park Theatre, Corrigan Drive and Brownsville Road, South Park. 412-831-8552 or www.southparktheatre.com