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Starting Monday 

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Starting Monday, Darknight Theatrical Productions, at the Performance Loft. The opening scenes reveal playwright Anne Commire's clumsy construction of this piece about how two friends cope when one of them gets sick. Full of creaky exposition and lazy time-and-place-setting devices, they feel like the writing exercises they probably were--designed to acquaint the writer with the characters rather than introduce the audience to the situation. Once she gets warmed up, though, Commire later shows some capacity to portray the sweetness of the friends' bond.

Director James Bagnall and his cast give the work a far stronger production than it deserves. As the sick friend, Valerie Shull resists the temptation to play for sympathy and keeps her character real--that is, really demanding, really annoying, and really difficult--until the end. Susie Griffith ably shows how a caretaker can develop from terrified postadolescent to strong adult. It's their acting rather than the script that makes the connection between the women powerful. In less skilled hands, this would have been a generic weepie: Beaches meets Terms of Endearment, complete with savagely caricatured mother--a thankless role Mary Mikva handles with panache, using comedy to counteract the playwright's harshness.

The script's autobiographical feel is what makes it persuasive. But that strength is also a weakness: if this play is any indication, there's nothing harder to write about than the loss of a friend.

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