Theater review ‘Magnetic North’ moves in witty direction

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LEWISTON — The four actors in “Magnetic North” stay right on course in this play at The Public Theatre.

It’s fast-moving with the power and plot movement coming from the wit and wisdom of the dialogue rather than onstage action. Each actor carries equal importance to this play, and each excels in delivering the specific role requirements.

David Newer portrays James, the husband who connects with his past when he stumbles on the e-mail address of Mara, a former girlfriend. He’s a man whose married life is obviously good, but the unexpected opportunity to see what might have become of Mara results in chaos. His curiosity plunges him into a turmoil of confusion and guilt that Newer portrays with restraint and believability.

Newer, who has appeared in TPT’s productions of “Dinner with Friends“ and “Rounding Third,” is an acclaimed acting teacher as well as a New York director and actor.

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Another New York actor, Nathan Darrow, makes his TPT debut as Emmet, James’ co-worker and glib advice-filled friend. His portrayal of the likable sidekick is right on target. Although Emmet’s comments usually result in his foot fitting into his mouth, he has a sensitive and understanding side that Darrow reveals with skill in a pivotal scene with James’ wife.

New York actress Natalie Saibel gives her first performance for TPT as Mara, the woman from James’ past, and it’s a very pleasing debut.

The play leaves a certain amount of ambiguity in the information we get about Mara and her intentions. The encounters with James leave no doubt that she’s interested in his present situation and her chances for renewing of their relationship.

The interaction between Newer and Saibel as James and Mara is low-key, but the embers of memory between them come close to sparking real flames.

There’s a constant under-current of flirtation in their talk, and though James resists, he can’t keep himself from slipping over the line in his marriage.

Mara’s approach is just strong enough so James can’t mistake her hope that he might want to reconnect. She makes it clear she could take up where they left off some years before, but she doesn’t force it.

Janet Mitchko plays Leigh, the wife who is confused and fearful about the situation. She puts strong emotion into her commitment to hold the marriage together, but she is also quick with a smile that lightens the show’s heavier moments.

Mitchko, who is TPT’s associate artistic director, has appeared in numerous productions on that stage.

In his direction of this play, Christopher Schario, TPT artistic director, pays close attention to subtle differences in how each reacts and responds to what is happening. The plot is simple and its development relies on discovering that the four characters have specific and individual views of the problems.

Even the set makes a strong statement about the imbalance that circumstances have thrown on each of the characters. The floor is built askew with everything somewhat tilted. There’s nothing extraneous to be seen — on the left, a sofa and a small table with a couple of liquor bottles suffice for James and Leigh’s living room. Even more sparse is the right side — two bar stools and a simple bar top — where a couple of encounters between James and his old flame Mara take place.

The unusual set design for Magnetic North is by Michael Reidy, the lighting is by Bart Garvey and the costumes by Jonna Klaiber.

Playwright William Donnelly won the 2006 Clauder Competition for New England Playwrights for “Magnetic North.”

Remaining shows

WHAT: “Magnetic North”

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 25; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 26-27; and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 28

WHERE: The Public Theatre, 31 Maple St., Lewiston

TICKETS: $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and students. Call 782-3200.

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