MARTHA, JOSIE AND THE CHINESE ELVIS
Theatre in the Round through January 27
On her 40th birthday, Josie (Corey de Danann) faces a dilemma familiar to so many: At her age, continuing her thriving vocation as a dominatrix has begun to feel positively unseemly. Her frame of mind isn't helped by her obsessive-compulsive housecleaner Martha (Laura Salveson) and mentally challenged daughter Brenda-Marie (Ashley Kosiak). Rounding out her special day is client-slash-friend Lionel (David Talarico) and his unique party surprise, the titular Elvis impersonator Timothy (Andrew Tsai). Playwright Charlotte Jones's set-up risks veering into the precious, but this Lynn Musgrave-directed production keeps a tight focus on Jones's rich character studies. Salveson hums with nervous repression as a character who can't get through a minute without counting to five, and Kosiak is assured as a young woman with a girl's dreams of becoming an ice-skating princess (and who has an uncanny knack for guileless insult, such as when she refers to Lionel as one of "Mam's nappy-men"). With a knock at the door at the end of the first act the action takes a major detour, and after the intermission the characters sift through the repercussions of Josie's profession—as well as Lionel's sudden and improbable infatuation with Martha (Talarico sells it with a businessman's lonely desperation, and his push-pull with Salveson renders the scenario oddly plausible). Theatre in the Round staged Jones's Humble Boy to fine effect in 2004, and this latest run at her work delivers a similar pleasure: The play is something like a perfect little puzzle, in which nothing of terrible consequence threatens to happen, other than such a mass of revealing dialogue and action that, by the end, each character has come entirely to life with realism and detail. At the end we get a little moment of hard-won beauty, the sort of minor lift that could only be earned by the intelligence of what came before. This isn't a show that changes anyone's life, but it's the sort of fine match between small-theater resources and a solid script that offers its own substantial satisfaction.