Photo caption: The couples in Green Bay Community Theater’s production of “With This Ring” are portrayed by (1917) Ian Wisneski and Rachel Ziolkowski, (1967) Kristen Bustrak and Justin Gulmire, (1984) Kathy Treankler and Bill Sergott and (2007) Leah VanLaanen and Robert Gagnon.
Four couples. Four stories. One apartment. One wedding ring. One hundred years.
That may seem as though a straight line is drawn in the play “With This Ring.” No, playwright Joseph Simonelli has explorations in mind, including a glance into the life of a struggling playwright.
The core of “With This Ring” is love, or at least relationships in marriage.
Around that core, the audience witnesses changes over time in the neighborhood outside the apartment in New York City. The audience also sees shifts in society/marriage – how the chemistry of couples works, or doesn’t.
Playgoing is primarily a couples thing for theGreen Bay Community Theater audience, and “With This Ring” provides many points of interest – and this: It’s fascinating being a fly on the wall in somebody else’s home.
There’s a lot for astute director Dave Zochert and his four casts-within-a-cast to finesse. The strongest set is the most vitriolic.
Aside from the stories taking place in the same place and turning around the same wedding band, another key consistency is the man in each marriage is a dreamer. He’s looking ahead and around, thinking and planning – always with a struggle.
The set-up story is that of Sean McCoy (Ian Wisneski) and Bridgette McCoy (Rachel Ziolkowski). Theirs is the story of the Irish immigrant in New York City: Arrived around the turn of the century and now, in 1917, beginning to make their mark. One sign: Sean has saved enough money to buy his wife a wedding band, 10 years into their marriage. Their love life is modest to the point that a living room wall statuette of an angel must be covered when they kiss.
The next story is set in 1967. For each story, music of the era is played in the background. Also in the background, the neighborhood has changed. The apartment goes from an okay place to live to very much desired (gentrification). In 1967, the neighborhood is druggy and dangerous. The ring has come to Joe McCoy (Justin Gulmire) and Matty McCoy (Kristen Bustrak) through family. Joe has had the ring specially inscribed. Joe jokes around with his hippie-ish wife as a release valve from his work day as a prosecuting attorney dealing with the dregs of humanity. The episode ends with high drama delivered by delivery boy Frankie (Devon Breecher).
By 1984, there is a big turn for the ring. Paul (Bill Sergott) is living alone in the apartment, now meager. His wife, Karen (Kathy Treankler) – estranged and near the permanent cutoff point – has stopped in with legal papers. Paul is a published playwright, but he is down to his last $7. This is a heavy duty scene delivered by players who are really good at such stuff. In Paul, playwright Joseph Simonelli seems to be talking about himself, with Karen providing the flip side in no uncertain terms.
In 2007, the ring has had another big turn and yet has circled back. Bobby (Robert Gagnon) and Liz (Leah VanLaanen) are riding a crest, living in the much-desired apartment with their wedding two days away. A phone call changes their course, and then a visitor arrives with a story to be told.
While being set in New York City and somewhat about changes in New York City, “With This Ring” deals with something very common – a piece of metal shaped in a circle – that means one thing and so many different things to so many people. The play offers human touches, and Green Bay Community Theater’s production ripples with them.
Creative: Playwright – Joseph Simonelli; director – Dave Zochert; production coordinator – Patricia Grimm; assistant director – David Burke; stage manager – Kaitlin “Kit” Honkanen; head carpenter – Noah Villarreal; set dresser/designer – Sandy Zochert; lighting and sound designer – Peter Wojtowicz; costume designer – Kaitlin “Kit” Honkanen; properties designer – Karen Konshak; make-up designer – Kaitlin “Kit” Honkanen; floor manager – Hailie Gagnon; carpentry assistant – Jeremy Stujenske
Bridgette McCoy – Rachel Ziolkowski
Sean McCoy– Ian Wisneski
Matty McCoy – Kristen Bustrak
Joe McCoy – Justin Gulmire
Frankie – Devon Breecher
Karen – Kathy Treankler
Paul – Bill Sergott
Liz – Leah VanLaanen
Bobby – Robert Gagnon
Running time: One hour, 44 minutes
Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 and 15; 4 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16; 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20, 21 and 22; 4 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23; and 2 p.m. Feb. 24
NEXT: “Farce of Habit” by Jones Hope Wooten, April 25-27, May 1-5.
THE VENUE: Green Bay Community Theater is one of the few community theaters that owns its performance space – and rehearsal space under the same roof. Stability is a big benefit. A landmark on Green Bay’s west side, the 193-seat Robert Lee Brault Playhouse features elements of an earlier time as a church, built in 1854 (the current backstage dressing room), 1895 (auditorium) and 1911 (today’s Community Room). The most obvious remnants are the church’s peaked side-wall windows with stained glass that is covered. High-up triangular windows still contain stained glass, and their patterns can be seen playing on sunny days when the troupe has matinees. The auditorium includes a 30 by 23-foot open-end stage with no stage curtain. The troupe has remodeled some portions of the building with medieval touches, but the seating area retains elements of a church. The theater includes wooden arches with decorative geometric designs on the ends and exposed beams in the sharply angled ceiling. The stage front consists of woodwork of repeated arches that looks to be repurposed wainscoting from other parts of the building. The troupe owns the building, which became its home in 1966. The Community Room serves as a gathering space for audiences prior to a performance and at intermission and for board and other internal meetings.
THE PERSON: Larger-than-life personality Robert Lee Brault was a longtime Green Bay Community Theater actor, director, scenic designer and managing director. He and his wife, Rita Brault, were mainstays from the time the troupe performed at various locations through the purchase of the present playhouse. Bob Brault died Nov. 1, 2015, in Florida at age 88. The troupe has established a special programming and education fund in his name.
Contact me at . Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My latest book, “I Fell Out of a Tree in Fresno (and other writing adventures),” is available in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum and Bosse’s.