The film of Judith Guest’s novel, Ordinary People, was Robert Redford’s directorial debut, and quite impressive. Considering how many actors decide that they can also direct, it’s noteworthy that Redford handled the material with such skill and grace. Ordinary People was very, very popular, and the Oscars it earned by far more appropriate than say Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves, which felt very nice, but showed no grasp of the medium. All of this is to say that many, many people saw Ordinary People, so when Resolute Theatre Project recently staged Nancy Pahl Gisenan’s adaptation they were taking on a giant. Stage adaptations can be terribly lame, and if Resolute’s production did not pan out, a lot of folks would have been sorely disappointed.
Directed by Jason Leyva, Resolute’s staging was strong, understated, poignant. The melancholy journey Conrad Jarrett must take in finding some peace with his older brother’s death is depicted with eloquence and humanity. Conrad is in considerable pain, which he keeps to himself. Those who care want to help, but don’t really know how. Judith Guest took considerable risk in making Conrad’s father, Cal, the nurturer, and Beth, his mother, cold and detached. While father and son deepen their bond Beth seems to become progressively estranged. Conrad has already suffered the exigencies of a mental hospital and electroshock therapy, but cannot seem to move on.
Leyva and his cast capture the mood and tone of Ordinary People with precision and mastery. This is emotionally loaded material so (to quote the old adage) less is more, but the tension, the ache, the frustration, still comes through, resonates like a Holliday torch song or snow on a Sunday evening. Considering the pervasive presence of the film, Resolute has made this story completely their own. It’s a fresh angle on a story so many of us know. Gisenan’s take involves us in Conrad’s story, without feeling rehashed or derivative. The cast of Ordinary People was very strong and dedicated with kudos to Zachary Leyva, Dayna Fries, Danny Macchietto and Taylor Donnelson for especially lucid performances.
Due to time constraints, I was unable to post my review before Resolute’s production of Ordinary People ended. My apologies.