A funny and endearing play about self-discovery

Personal journeys, self discovery and love are recurring themes in Camelot Theatre's funny and poignant "King of City Island," written by James Geoghan.

"The bridge speaks of a journey they are to take," says one of the characters near the end of the play, referring to a story he learned. Indeed, the play is full of bridges.

If you go

What: "King of City Island"

Where: Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., Talent

When: Through Sunday, May 27. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays.

Cost: Tickets cost $22, $20 for seniors and students (except for matinees). A pay-what-you-can performance will be offered at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 9.

Information: 541-535-5250 or www.camelottheatre.org

Set on New York's City Island, there's the real bridge that connects the tiny Bronx island with New York, and the metaphorical bridges that each of the six characters must cross on their journey to personal awareness.

Cazzie Angelini, played by Roy Von Rains Jr., is a drawbridge operator living in his childhood home with his high school girlfriend. He's also a jerk, a bully and a petty crook. However, with the well-crafted script and Von Rains' strong and nuanced performance, Cazzie also is likeable in an Archie Bunker sort of way.

His friends and crime cronies, the bumbling and comic Lloyd and Eugene, played by Bob Herried and Brandon Manley, tolerate his bullying. His overweight neighbor, Muriel, played by AM radio personality Nicole Vilencia, puts up with his insults, and his sweet and loyal girlfriend Donna, Barbara Rains, accepts his demands, complaining and perpetual marriage postponement, despite the fact that they have been engaged for 17 years.

When Cazzie's younger brother, Ambrose, played by Brian O'Connor, returns home to recover after leaving the priesthood during a crisis of faith, he sets the others on a path to recovery. Muriel wants to get fit and become a large and lovely model. Lloyd and Eugene want to be legitimate businessmen. And Donna wants to finally marry Cazzie. Ambrose is the only character who seems unperturbed by Cazzie's anger and bullying, in part because he knows their father was the true source of that meanness.

Inevitably, one of Cazzie's illegal schemes backfires and he goes to jail for nine months. While he's away, Ambrose and the other characters form a sort of support group in which they cheer each other on and help each other recognize their inner strength and beauty. They practice tai chi and comically spout self-help aphorisms but truly blossom in Cazzie's absence. Even Ambrose, who has his own problems, seems to grow a bit stronger. When Cazzie returns home to a very different group of friends than he was expecting, he dramatically lashes out. But with their support, even he ultimately crosses his own bridge.

The play is well cast and subtly directed. The actors exhibit a genuine camaraderie. Even as they worked through a few opening-night glitches in timing or lines, they were clearly enjoying themselves.

Barbara Rains is simultaneously tough and a doormat as Donna. She brings a real sense of history to her relationship with Cazzie. As a couple, they are both flawed and lovable. The audience roots for Donna and hopes they can finally make their relationship work.

Herried and Manley provide the comic relief, but also are touchingly sweet characters. Vilencia's Muriel achieves some of the most obvious personal growth in the show. She's crass and funny before her transformation, but still retains a little of her sass afterward.

Set in the 1990s, with '90s pop music to highlight scene transitions, "King of City Island" is a character-driven play with down-to-earth, blue-collar dialogue. The characters are like friends many of us knew in high school — friends who are finally growing up.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at decker4@gmail.com.

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