ashland.news
June 21, 2024

Review: ‘Off Peak’ provokes laughter and insights

Off Peak
Michael Elich and Robin Goodrin Nordli are former lovers who meet again on a New York commuter train in the Rogue Theater Company's production of "Off Peak" at Grizzly Peak Winery.
March 20, 2024

Rogue Theater Company’s season opener, starring Robin Goodrin Nordli and Michael Elich, is heartbreaking and heartwarming

By Lee Juillerat for Ashland.news

What could have been. What is. And what might be.

There’s much to ponder and speculate about when Sarita and Martin meet aboard an evening Metro North commuter train in “Off Peak,” the Rogue Theater Company’s delightfully insightful season opening play.

Robin Goodrin Nordli and Michael Elich’s characters have an often-awkward reunion aboard a commuter train in “Off Peak.”

Martin and Sarita aren’t two strangers on a train, they’re former lovers. As in the Paul Simon song “Still Crazy After All These Years,” there are sparks of electricity between the two, who went their separate ways 17 years earlier.

Sometimes the electricity is high voltage, as Martin offers awkward apologies for what happened and Sarita reacts with a range of emotions and reactions. And, as in “Still Crazy,” they talk about old times, but their memories come from different perspectives.

Laughter and introspection

Written by Brenda Withers, “Off Peak” is a thought-provoking, powerful one-act play that is variously heartbreaking and heartwarming while often being laugh-out-loud funny and, other times, somberly introspective.

Elich and Nordli, married in real life, are have starred in many roles with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The play takes place on an otherwise empty subway car traveling from New York City upstate to Poughkeepsie. As the story unfolds, Martin and Sarita reveal their complex, deeply personal remembrances of a love affair that soured. Martin attempts to explain his failings and make restitution, attempts that Sarita mostly, and loudly, refuses to accept.

Nuanced performances

The actors, Robin Goodrin Nordli and Michael Elich, a real-life married couple, give nuanced, very real performances. They express their characters’ feelings both physically and emotionally. While Withers’ script is rich with heartfelt feelings and intellectual twists and turns, the play is enriched and made personal frequently by its unspoken words.

The deets
Performances of “Off Peak” are at Grizzly Peak Winery, 1 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday through March 31. Tickets are $35. The play runs 90 minutes without an intermission. Information and tickets: Go to roguetheatercompany.com, call 541-205-9190 or visit the box office at 389 E. Main St., Ashland, 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday-Friday.

Elich and Nordli, elite performers with a long history of starring roles at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, create scenes that feel genuine, sometimes through shrill shouts and screams, other times by facial expressions that say what dialogue cannot. Some of the best words are those never verbally spoken.

When spoken, Withers’ words express Sarita’s and Martin’s range of thoughts, reflections and emotions. And humor, as when Martin reveals that he has tracked Sarita online and she yelps, “My Facebook page is private!” — one of many lines that leaves audience laughing.

Other words reflect on the challenge of relationships as Sarita barks at Martin, “You are not responsible for making me a responsible person.”

During a talkback session, Nordli and Elich said one reason they wanted to perform “Off Peak” is that the characters are of a certain age, their early 50s.

Robynn Rodriguez directs

The Rogue Theater’s intimate setting puts the audience smack-dab in the set that features a carefully designed rail car. Robynn Rodriguez’s direction is spot-on, including the lighting, the sound and a never-seen conductor who provides updates as the train temporarily breaks down.

“Off Peak” also resonates because of how it ends. There is no resolution. Will they reconnect? What does the future hold? What might be?

Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net.

Picture of Jim

Jim

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