Stephen Belber’s dramatic, romantic, heartbreaking Dusk Rings A Bell provides a compelling acting showcase for two of the finest young talents in town, Brea Bee and Wes McGee.
Bee stars as thirty-nine-year-old CNN exec Molly, still dreaming of the Delaware summer twenty-five years ago when she shared an unforgettable first kiss with a boy who has remained at the back of her thoughts over the ensuing years.
It was that summer too that fourteen-year-old Molly wrote a letter to her thirty-nine-year-old self, a letter she has now driven back to Bethany Beach to retrieve from its attic hiding place in the house where she and her family spent that unforgettable holiday.
No longer in possession of the key to unlock the house (and by extension her past memories), the usually play-it-safe Molly does a little breaking and entering, only to be discovered post retrieval by the dwelling’s caretaker-landscaper, who happens to be none other than …. (You guessed it.)
It takes Ray (McGee) more than a few minutes to remember Molly and that kiss (or at least to admit to remembering them), after which it seems entirely likely that Cupid’s arrow will strike a second time, that is until Ray lets drop a bombshell. He spent the decade from ages eighteen to twenty-eight behind bars.
Not only does this revelation throw a wrench into Molly and Ray’s romantic reunion, it turns Dusk Rings A Bell into a meditation on redemption and forgiveness, one which will surely have audience members asking themselves, “What would I have done had I been Ray?” and “What would I do now if I were Molly?”
Still, without just the right director and performers, Dusk Rings A Bell could easily come across a heavy-handed message drama.
Fortunately John Hindman and his two stars recognize that at heart, Belber’s play is a love story, one that must keep you rooting for its two star-crossed protagonists even as events between their first and second meeting conspire against them.
The luminous Bee, whom moviegoers will recall as Bradley Cooper’s ex in the Oscar-winning Silver Linings Playbook, does absolutely stunning work, from Molly’s extended, verbally dense opening monolog to scenes taking us from her teen years to her adulthood and back. It’s the proverbial role (and acting challenge) of a lifetime, and it is worth seeing Dusk Rings A Bell just for Bee’s performance, and the same can be said about her costar.
Both boyish and edgy, McGee does engaging, deeply felt work that matches Bee’s every step of the way. For Belber’s play to win us over, we must care about Ray enough to forgive him anything. With McGee in the role, we do, making it all the more gut-wrenching when someone he loves cannot do the same.
The bare black stage on which Dusk Rings A Bell unfolds gives the production a bit of a “showcase” feel, that is until the last ten minutes make Hindman’s design choice precisely the right one, and Peter Carlstedt’s seascape sound design and Toranj Noroozi’s subtle lighting design give the production a professional sheen.
Dusk Rings A Bell is produced by Caitlin R. Campbell. Linda Braumann is stage manager.
Simply for its two stars’ mesmerizing work, Dusk Rings A Bell is worth seeing. The post-performance discussion it is certain to generate comes as a bonus.
Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard. Hollywood.
March 5, 2106
Photos: Rance Brafton