Local director and Gypsy Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Lil Barcaski penned The Year of Independent Living, selected recently as a Main Stage play at the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival. The play is a pleasant jaunt overall.
The story follows Sal Hannigan, whose wife gives him an ultimatum over breakfast: Either his father moves out, or she does. Desperate to save his marriage, he asks his aging, difficult father to move into an assisted living facility. When Sal’s wife ends up leaving him anyway, he and his father both have to learn to live independently for the first time in their lives.
"The entire play is based on the last several years of my own life," Barcaski said. "The dad is closely based on my father."
Director Brianna Larson elicits some truly genuine moments that will endear anyone who's had to deal with grown-up problems like marital discord, way-of-life upheavals and an ailing and aging loved one. Barcaski's script feels authentic with some Frasier/Cheers-sitcom-style one-liners to lighten the load. Her characters are fully fleshed out and come with enlightening backstories. The exposition, however, is a little heavy at the beginning, but the background info filtered through dialogue mostly works.
Dennis Johnson is utterly convincing as die-hard Jersey boy Sal. At first, his gesticulations come off a little too like Paulie from Sopranos, but an admirable range of emotions and a nuanced, natural performance emerges, fetching laughs and sympathies from the audience. David Nisson is a charming curmudgeon as Pops and owns his role despite a few blocking/dialog hiccups. Crystal Farina is downright hilariously deadpan as Hanna with honorable mentions to Skyla Luckey as Mindy and Alicyn Weber as Rose.
The roving, aptly named Gypsy Rep has been a great incubator of local talent and is pretty much on par with Stageworks, Jobsite, et al. — a couple of steps above community theater, for sure, but — if we use the performance of Independent Living as an example — needs to be more vigilant about pacing gaps (especially in the final half-hour) and overacting to be on par with the established pros. That said, what Gypsy accomplishes, with even less than than the minimal resources relied on by other theatrical companies, is highly commendable.
All in all, a touching play worth seeing today at 2 p.m. at the SAFI Theater Space, 1714 CR 1, Suite 2, Dunedin. $15. 813-922-8778 or email [email protected]