Certainly Sensational

   As residents of an area many yearn to visit, we’ve all had to deal with the problem of a houseguest who just won’t leave. Theatre at Arts Garage addresses this age-old issue—well, sort of—in its newest production Uncertain Terms, on stage through March 29.

   Lou Tyrrell directs the world premiere production of Allison Gregory’s funny and poignant script, which packs emotional nuance and relatable themes. Following their mother Carol’s death, Dani and Matthew attempt to sell her home in an unfavorable market. The home’s proximity to a graveyard and the presence of unwanted tenants—both alive and dead—complicate that task. Dani’s ex-husband Harry took care of Carol while she was dying and now wants to remain in the home, as he claims Carol requested. Throw in an MIA rodent and a plethora of thrift-store finds and you have a humorous backdrop for frank reflections on life, death and the homes we occupy along the way.

Erin Joy Schmidt, Todd Allen Durkin and Matt Stabile star in Uncertain Terms. Photo by David Nail

   One of the true joys of catching a show at Arts Garage is basking in the intimate, studio setting. In the case of Uncertain Terms, being up close and personal with the actors heightens the emotional stakes and highlights the touching performances taking place on stage.

   As Harry Bennyhoff, Todd Allen Durkin conveys vulnerability and deep insight, often in the same breath. He makes his entrance by breaking into the home he feels is his, an unseen pet and a bulky knapsack in toe, and begins conversing with Carol’s spirit as if death is just a technicality. Given the many dimensions of his character, Durkin takes a few scenes to delve into the role and find Harry’s heartbeat. But when he does, it’s magic. Durkin’s performance is one of the finest I’ve seen on any South Florida stage. He delivers most of the punch lines while also sustaining the majority of the punches thrown by the cast, but he always finds new and genuine reactions. In the end, he evolves into a fully fleshed-out human who desires to connect and impact those around him.

   For the most part, the rest of the cast rises to Bennyhoff’s level. Florida theatre favorites Barbara Bradshaw and Elizabeth Dimon portray the late Carol Black and mourning real estate agent Paula Twombly, respectively. Bradshaw’s Carol is comical and sensitive, featured in the present as Harry’s sounding board as well as in flashbacks with her daughter—a narrative feat expertly handled by Gregory. The weight of death and regret wear on Carol, and Bradshaw’s line reads capture the innate sorrow of this predicament. Dimon is used sparingly, but when given some meaty content in the second act, she jumps in head first, landing some of the play’s most touching segments.

   As daughter Dani, Erin Joy Schmidt’s performance is a roaring crescendo, beginning as a meek, somewhat anal-retentive organizer and building into a supremely sad yet hopeful woman who accepts her past and—reluctantly—looks toward the future. Her brother Matthew, played by Matt Stabile is not as fully formed as Dani, though Stabile does a solid job with what he is given. This lack of character development occurs once more in the second act, with the introduction of Tawnee Faithful (Jody-Ann Henry) who arrives as more of a tool of expository progression than as a realized role. These two points, however, are the only flaws to be found in Gregory’s soaring script.

   As the final production in Theatre at Arts Garage’s season honoring female playwrights, Uncertain Terms forces the audience to both acknowledge the merit of Gregory’s work and also examine our own lives—which is, of course, the aspiration of all great art. And, with complete certainty, Uncertain Terms achieves just that.

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