Site Map | Site Info

The Quality of Life

(c) Edge San Francisco

November 2, 2008

By Marvin Candle

Caption from ACT: (L to R) Jeannette (Laurie Metcalf), Dinah (JoBeth Williams), and Bill (Steven Culp) have a good laugh about how "tragedy turns people stupid."
American Conservatory Theatre's eclectic season continues with The Quality of Life. In ACT tradition, its large stage is filled with well-designed sound and sights; technical aspects of ACT productions are always engaging and the interaction between technical and dramatic elements is always interesting. "The Quality of Life" is a breath of fresh air in what was developing to be a stale season.

The story itself is as simplistic as a sitcom plot: a Midwestern couple comes to California to visit relatives and cultures clash! But playwright/director Jane Anderson doesn't go in the direction of full blown farce. Though there is plenty of laughter, she instead brings out the humanity from characters experiencing very real traumas: some described in detail, some pieced together through the course of the evening.

Admittedly sometimes the characters do cross into caricature - exaggerated stereotypes of Midwest and Californian types, but for the most part the playwright is successful conveying the sense of tragedy one finds in losing a house to fire (a storyline inspired by the Mt. Vision fire of 1995), fighting a losing battle against cancer or in the pain of losing a loved one.

The audience is first introduced to Dinah and Bill, a churchgoing Midwestern couple, played by JoBeth Williams and Steven Culp. While their accents are more Arkansas than Ohio at times, the couple is filled with good solid Midwestern values and the actors portray a beautiful believability as they struggle to keep their marriage together after a horrible tragedy. Their California hosts are Jeannette and Neil, played by Laurie Metcalf and Dennis Boutsikaris respectively, who live in a yurt after a fire in the Northern California hills, and demonstrate a fierce energy and love for one another, especially in confronting Neil's terminal cancer.

The scenes with the four of them are strong and fast paced, full of humor and sadness - a success for the most part, though there are some preachy parts where Mr. Culp proclaims his faith in cadences that rings slightly odd, as if under-rehearsed.
Oh yes, and it seemed like none of them really knew what being high was like. (Not that I would know).

"The Quality of Life" is a beautiful play, and it is brought to life by a talented and amazing artistic team. It suffers from some over-obvious metaphors which lead to some unconvincing Act II wrap-ups, but the show ends wonderfully, with a touching scene between Ms. Metcalf and Mr. Boutsikaris as Neil's illness progresses. The play is a breath of fresh air which, safe to say, will take your breath away.

"October 29 - November 23, 2008 -, 415.749.2228"

DISCLAIMER: This site is a Steven Culp fan site and is not affiliated with Steven Culp, his family or any of his representatives.
Unless otherwise noted, all captures were made by me from videos from various sources. All shows and photos belong to their respective owners.
© 2004-2022 and