Reviewed by Joseph Michael Mishler
Do you remember your first love? Miles & Ellie, a new play by Don Zolidis, which made its world premier at The Purple Rose Theatre on June 20,2013, will open up your memory banks.
Zolidis’ play chronicles the roller coaster first love that began between two teenagers all the way to a happy ending 20 years later. Zolidis is not only a playwright, but a screen writer, a former high school teacher and a college professor. As of May 2013, he has published 52 plays that have been produced over 4,000 times. He was awarded two Edgerton Foundation New American Play Awards. One of these was White Buffalo which also premiered at Purple Rose Theatre in Holly.
Miles & Ellie finds two teenagers thrown together in a high school health class who have to pretend to be a married couple with a baby. The baby turns out to be a sack of flour which leads to a number of hilarious events. They are responsible for the “baby” and have to spend the night taking care of the baby. After a rough start, they fall in love. Their failed attempt at sex was an outstanding scene. Ellie’s family seems to be not quite all it could be. The two sisters fight constantly. The father is running for political office and having an affair. The mother is trying to hold it all together.
First loves are difficult because the couples have no other experience. So when the break up occurs over a misunderstanding, both Miles and Ellie will struggle for years. The play is funny, but with a sharp edge to it.
This was an excellent performance. From a technical point of view, the actors handled the various asides smoothly. There were a number of places where the actor would say something they were thinking, only to inform the audience that they actually didn’t say it. This is difficult, but they handled it. As Ellie, Rhiannon Ragland gave a wonderful performance. She handled the constant changes with ease. The semi-nude scene between her and Rusty Mewha (Miles) was funny, intentionally clumsy and well done.
Ellie seemed to be the only rational mind in the family and that was fleeting at best.
Mewha also gave a strong and convincing performance as a young teenage boy who “falls” in love. One of the best scenes, and there were many, was his telling of how he went to buy Ellie some sexy underwear. Only a guy would have that happen to them.
Michelle Mountain is cast as Mary, the mother of this rather strange family. She literally steals the show every time she comes on stage. She does a good job of portraying someone stuck in a past era. Her husband is running for office and having an affair, but she prefers to tough it out. She goes along when Ellie explains to her that Miles has to spend the night for a class project. When she has something say it is always at the right moment, even if it hurts. Mountain is a delight to watch on stage.
Playing Illyana, Cheryl Turski has the image of being a playgirl, but images aren’t always what they seem. Her outrageous behavior, flirting with Miles, adds fuel to the anger between the two sisters. In the second act she turns out to be someone different. She also gave a good performance.
Bill Simmons plays Burt, the very political, Republican father who is running for office. His speeches are laced with nasty comments about all sorts of groups and people in America. No one on stage seems to be listening to Burt. He walks and talks like a candidate.
The set was very simple, with light earth tone colors and two levels which proved to be very effective. A couch, chair and small table were the only set pieces. They didn’t need any more.
Guy Sanville did an excellent job of casting and directing this play. I highly recommend this play. It is a trip down memory lane that may have you remembering your first love and laughing a lot throughout the performance.
Miles & Ellie by Don Zolidis runs from June 20 through August 31, 2013. The Purple Rose Theatre is located at 137 Park Street, Chelsea, MI. Box office: 734-433-7673.