As Wide As I Can See is one of those rare shows that turns you into an evangelist. It makes you want to tell everyone you meet: go see this right now; it will not disappoint.
Mark Snyder’s play takes place entirely in an Ohio backyard. It’s set in suburban Youngstown, a town which has been hit hard by the recession and, as a result, is slowly contracting, involuntarily downsizing the hopes and aspirations of its citizens. In a neat backyard, Dean, an out-of-work journalist, is preparing a barbecue with his buddy Tyler. Tyler is an old high school friend, now living with his young family in a trailer parked out back.
The barbecue is to introduce Dean’s girlfriend, Jessica – who owns the house – to Dean’s friends. Despite their obvious affection, Jessica and Dean’s relationship is strained by Dean’s recent unemployment and the continuing occupation of their yard by Tyler and his brood. But for this one evening everyone is trying hard to get along. That is until a wildcard gets thrown into the mix when Jessica invites an old acquaintance, Charlotte, to the party. Charlotte brings up memories that neither Tyler nor Dean want to revisit.
The beauty of As Wide As I Can See is that this set-up feels so natural. Snyder brings a realistic voice to these characters, a voice that never feels forced. Dean, an excellent Ryan Barry, is a little lost and bitter, but obviously in love and a very likeable character. As the more uptight Jessica, Julie Leedes, brings a warmth and insecurity to her character that helps explain her desire for order. Their affection is believable, their interactions verging on nagging while still being supportive. Ryan Barry’s Dean is in a process of confronting both the little and big questions of life. And the introduction of Charlotte only intensifies these questions.
As Tyler and Nan, the couple in the trailer out back, Joshua Levine and Kay Capasso do a wonderful job. They question life less and enjoy it more than the complicated couple in the house. Tyler and Nan enjoy the simple pleasures of life, but Snyder never depicts them as merely being “simple” people. The final couple, Charlotte and Walt, are played by Melisa Breiner-Sanders and Conan McCarty. Both of these actors do well to bring these more layered and difficult characters to life; Conan McCarty in particular gives a rich and thoughtful performance as the supportive Walt.
Director Dan Horrigan has been gifted a wonderful script and he knows it. He gives the characters the time and room to grow and evolve. At one point Jessica is sitting on the stoop smoking and in this one simple act so much is conveyed, through the slouch of her shoulders, the not over-the-top way she puffs and exhales; Horrigan allows this scene to linger, he doesn’t rush things, giving rise to a sense of fragility bordering on exhaustion. The moment evaporates when a second character enters the scene, as Jessica won’t allow herself to be seen indulging in even a moment of self-pity. It’s a quiet simple moment but, in some ways, it defines the production. It is these simple touches which make As Wide As I Can See into such a fantastic and memorable piece of theater.