John Ashton’s new dark comedy packs a punch at Miners Alley in Golden
No matter our age, when we return to our parents’ home, we inevitably assume some of the characteristics of the children we once were. The fond memories may clash with the unpleasant ones, and if our siblings are around, the recollection of such is bound to expand tenfold. Things we may have forgotten are recalled by another sibling, and the pleasure and pain of it all is refreshed in everyone’s minds in powerful ways.
This is the vein John Ashton successfully mines in his new play Before You Go, just opened at Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden. The veteran Colorado actor, director and playwright appears to be in well-known territory, as his exploration of the Baker family’s checkered past rings true on just about every level. Amid dark revelations of past sexual abuse, infidelity, substance abuse and more, there are plenty of laughs as the family members slip back into the ties that bind them all.
Ashton also directed the show, and he assembled an excellent cast. At the heart of the story is the Mom, Betty Baker (Billie McBride), whose presence looms large at the outset despite the fact that she’s seen little in the first act. McBride, who can’t seem to get out of Miners Alley alive (she also passed in The Treasurer in July), is the perfect fit for a role that finds her coming to terms with her imminent death but still focused on saying what she needs to say while departing on her own terms.
Missy Moore plays the younger daughter, Jill, who arrives in a tizzy after a break with her punk-rocker boyfriend Marty (Damon Guerrasio). She’s commandeered his motorcycle and shows up helmeted, armed with a gun and worked up over an encounter with some rednecks at a bar.
Moore immediately shows why she’s one of Colorado’s go-to actors for emotionally complex roles. As adept at delivering comedic zingers as she is at sadness and heartbreak, it’s a perfect role for her — and she doesn’t disappoint.
Jill is surprised to find her brother Mark at her mother’s home, as is he at her arrival. Played with sad-sack precision by Eric Mather, Mark is the quintessential lost soul, plucking away at his guitar while wallowing in his long legacy of bad decisions. Ashton’s script obscures at first the incident from their childhood that’s hung over them both, but it’s the scene between these two in the second act that set off more audible crying in the audience than just about any play I’ve ever attended.
This stuff hurts, and while Jill’s confrontation with Mark may seem like a sidebar to the main mom’s-dying plot, it’s integral to the theme of family. Who else but a family member could you punch in the face in one scene and hug in forgiveness the next?
The calm center of the family is Father Pat, the eldest son who’s also a somewhat agnostic priest. I loved Mark Collins in this role, which Ashton wrote as not so much a peacemaker (although he does some of that) but as a sage big brother who asks the right questions to nudge his siblings in the right direction. Collins seems to float through the chaos, not oblivious to it all but acutely aware that picking sides or making judgments will only make matters worse.
Even so, Mark’s self-loathing eventually comes to a head, and, per Chekhov’s maxim, the gun from Jill’s pack must be fired. Mather is all alone on stage at this point, Jill’s devastating takedown just delivered, and watching his torment acted out without words is a powerful bit of acting. The character is that person for whom we should have no pity, but the performance may convince some otherwise. And if his sister can forgive him, can we all?
The character of Betty combines a bit of the crusty old gal who doesn’t give a damn what she says with the practical resignation of someone who also has a few things to atone for in the short time she has left. She’s interesting not so much for her personality but for who she is to the family. Her own admissions of past sins are tinged with regret but also with an acknowledgement that they matter little anymore. McBride does a beautiful job portraying a woman as flawed as any of us but who in the end wants only to leave the world knowing her kids will look out for one another.
The ending may have a too-neat bow on it for some, but it’s satisfying nonetheless. After witnessing the many emotional wounds of the Baker family, it’s cathartic to see them at peace, singing a good-by song to Mom while the rough stuff is forgotten — at least for the moment.
Read Juliet Wittman’s story in Westword about John Ashton and Before You Go