WHEELING - Oglebay Institute's Towngate Theatre continues its season with a revival of "In Terminal Decline," the best attended non-musical show in Towngate's history. It will be staged for two weekends, March 15- 17 and 22-23.
Written by local playwright Tom Stobart, this serio-comedy attacks intense issues such as alcoholism and its triggers and effects; the complexities of personal relationships; how certain events can alter our lives forever and our ability- or inability- to deal with change.
Set in a local watering hole known as "Lucky's" (based on a now closed Centre Wheeling bar called Bud's), the show depicts the antics of the eccentric frequenters of the bar as seen through the eyes of the cynical but sympathetic bartender named Al.
First produced at Towngate Theatre in 1984, "In Terminal Decline" drew record-setting attendance, with sold out performances each night of its run. The play was directed by Wheeling theater legend and retired Oglebay Institute artistic director Hal O' Leary and was part of the "Premiere Six," which was an entire season of original works.
"My hope is that Towngate patrons who have had the pleasure of seeing Tom's work in the past will return for this revival and that our new audience members will come to witness what a rare and talented writer we have right here in Wheeling," said Towngate director Tim Thompson.
The story is told to us by Al the bartender, who is aptly nicknamed "zookeeper," on a night when life changes for everyone in Lucky's Bar. It is a night when Eric, a local columnist, is visited by his estranged wife, Carla. On the same night there is a birthday party for an 18 year-old girl, Ivy, who is hopelessly in love with Eric. A "perfect storm" of events causes misunderstandings and actions that can never be taken back. As much as Eric resists change, on this night, life does change- forever.
Is it life's circumstances that cause us to spin in terminal decline or our inability to deal with those circumstances or, perhaps, a complex combination of both? These are issues explored in this thought provoking work.
Although much of the play deals with serious subject matter, Stobart sprinkles it with humor, and his spot-on depictions of these lovable but troubled barflies lead to laugh-out loud situations.
There's Saul, for example, who reads for hours while hanging out at the bar because, in his words, "It takes around 45 minutes of readin' to replace the brain cells you kill with one shot of whiskey"
We also meet Babe and Sis, who call everyone "honey" and stagger in time to the jukebox, playing the same songs over and over.
Stobart takes us down an emotional landscape of strained relationships with others and with ourselves in a way that is funny while being deeply poignant.
Whether in reality or through their own perceptions, the patrons at Lucky's have nowhere else to go, explained Thompson.
"The character of Al recognizes that and cares for them. He knows they are beyond seeking help with drinking and creates an atmosphere where they can feel accepted. They become like a family, caring and, at times, protecting one another," he said. "Al could be viewed as an enabler, but he, too, is a drunk that has found solace in the caretaking of his regulars."
Thompson will direct "In Terminal Decline," which features an outstanding cast including: Rob Garrison, Paul Orr, Sue Beth Warren, John Reilly, P.D. Gregg, Dee Gregg, Gael Finchum, Lola Miller, Walt Warren, Justin Swoyer, Joey Heatherington, Vince Marshall, Melissa Ceo, Evan Oslund, Gretchen Schneider and Kim Brown.
Stobart is one of the area's most prolific and widely produced playwrights. Over the years, he has written six full-length and 17 one-act plays. He is owner and operator of Paradox bookstore in Centre Wheeling.
Towngate's curtain is at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 15 and 16 and 3 p.m. March 17. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday March 22 and 23. Call the Stifel Fine Arts Center at 304-242-7700 to reserve seats or purchase online at www.oionline.com. For those buying seats at the door, Towngate's box office opens one hour before all shows and can be reached at 304-233-0820.
The show contains strong language and mature subject matter that is not suitable for young audiences.