Popular psychology holds that there are five stages to grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Stewart Lombardi, the lead character in Martin Casella's new play, Scituate, at TBG Arts Center, is stuck in a stage somewhere between one and four, and he can think of only one solution: staying in bed. The premise of an immobile character mourning the death of his lover from AIDS sounds at least static, if not completely depressing. Throw in the backdrop of Scituate, a seaside summer-getaway town on Cape Cod, and it's sentimental enough for a Lifetime Original Movie. But even when cushioned between down pillows, Chad Hoeppner's Stewart remains a surprisingly active and charmingly funny guide through the world of loss. He doesn't reject life; he just prefers the one in his bedroom, where he can be alone with his visions of the recently deceased Robbie (Matthew Mabe). Hoeppner and Mabe bring their love story to life so vividly that it's no wonder Stewart won't budge.
In addition to these dreams, flashbacks, and visitations, Stewart's room bustles with visits from his real-life friends and family. If his bedded life denies classification as one of the stages of grief, his loved ones provide pure examples of some of those steps as they try to get him back to his normal life. Using anger as his primary tool, the fiery leader of the mission to move Stewart is his wealthy father, played by a dynamic Damian Buzzerio. Stewart's mom, meanwhile, sweetly accepts, while his therapist and two couples of friends bargain.
Casella provides the cast with great moments of comedic bickering, and Laurence Lau and Stefanie Zadravec take full advantage of these opportunities as Stewart's married friends. Buzzerio's dead-on Boston accent is the perfect complement to his threats to have his bodyguards pull his son out of bed, and his wife (Holly Barron) serves as a sweet foil to Buzzerio's tough love, naïvely accepting her son's wishes with smart comic timing.
Hoeppner's subtle shifts from romantic scenes from the past to present scenes of stubborn resistance hold the show together. And thanks to clever directing by David Hilder and seamless lighting transitions from Graham Kindred and Traci Klainer, the story maintains a lively and engaging pace.
But as Casella's script moves away from the safe harbor of its quirky characters and sharp one-liners, it drifts out toward the dangerous waters of cliché. He feeds the audience standard fights about a woman wanting a baby and marriage and a man who won't commit, while ensuring that every character gets his/her monologue explaining how death has affected him/her in the past. The formula comes full circle as Stewart and his mother share a heart-to-heart and a hug in the closing scene.
With Stewart's flashbacks and visions, the play raises some potentially interesting questions about the difference between reality and memory, but those questions fall prey to similarly tidy conclusions. Robbie first appears as a ghost or an angel, yet in later scenes he appears as Stewart's memory, leaving the audience wondering whether all of these scenes are in his imagination. But then Casella neatly answers questions about the line between the supernatural and memories with a séance, the modern-day writer's deus ex machina.
Although his comic writing and quickly moving script keep Scituate from digressing into a sentimental lament about death, Casella seems almost fearful of leaving his audience with any sense of unease. Look to Scituate for a comforting and amusing story about dealing with loss and sharing love with friends, families, and romantic partners. As for revelations, maybe the most helpful message the show will leave you with is that you're not the only one who doesn't want to get out of bed some mornings.