by Roseann Cane
A small gem of a play, now in its world premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Adam Bock’s Before the Meeting presents a look at the human struggle to heal, a precious thing to witness during these troubling times.
Every morning, a small group of regulars gathers in a church basement to prepare for a meeting of alcoholics and drug addicts working on maintaining their sobriety. (Twelve Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous aren’t directly mentioned, but references and language unmistakably point them.) Gail (Deirdre O’Connell), with 17 years of sobriety, supervises the setting up of metal folding chairs, the all-important coffee urn, and the displays of pamphlets. We soon discover that the set-up is almost always structured in the same way: Nicole (Midori Francis) makes the coffee; Gail arranges the rows of chairs; Ron (Arnie Burton) complains about the chair arrangement, among other seemingly unimportant matters. A struggling new member, Tim (Kyle Beltran), joins the group, and he is gently welcomed and guided by the others.
Mark Wendland’s utterly authentic, cluttered set, where most of the action takes place, is the back of the church basement room; the rows of metal folding chairs are partially visible upstage. The daily ritual of setting up, we soon understand, provides a focal point for maintaining sobriety, a predictable safe harbor for these people who cannot control their roiling external lives.
Only once in the play are we taken inside a meeting: when Gail, a middle-aged woman with a strong, take-charge persona, tells her story. O’Connell’s raw, forthright delivery is virtuosic. Gail’s hard-won sense of stability is shaken by the return of her long-estranged adult daughter, Angela (Cassie Beck), and the importance of her community as she clings to her sobriety is abundantly clear.
It is through Gail’s experience that we fathom the struggles of each of the characters. Francis, Burton, and Beltran are exquisitely realized. Even in her one scene, Beck firmly establishes the righteous rage of an alcoholic’s daughter. The struggle toward healing that happens in this gritty church basement is at once human and divine.
Trip Cullman’s savvy direction marries seamlessly with Bock’s words, as do the lighting (Jen Schriever), sound (Darron L. West), and costumes (Sarah Laux). Really, there’s not an element of Before the Meeting that I would change in any way.
Before the Meeting by Adam Bock, directed by Trip Cullman, runs August 7-18, 2019 on the Nikos Stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, MA. Scenic design by Mark Wendland, costume design by Sarah Laux, lighting design by Jenn Schriever, sound design by Darron L. West. CAST: Cassie Beck as Angela, Kyle Beltran as Tim, Midori Francis as Nicole, Deirdre O’Connell as Gail, and Arnie Burton as Ron.
Ticket reservations for the 2019 Williamstown Theatre Festival season are available through the WTF website at wtfestival.org, by phone at 413-458-3253, or in person at the ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance at 1000 Main St (Route 2), Williamstown, MA 01267.