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Theater Review: 'Hermetically Sealed' Serves Up Tasty If Slightly Overcooked Drama

Julia Prud'homme, Gigi Bermingham and Nicholas Podany in "Hermetically Sealed" at the Skylight Theatre. Photo courtesy of Ed Krieger
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The latest production by the Katselas Theatre Company, Kathryn Graf's Hermetically Sealed, benefits from nuanced performances and detailed direction. The writing is generally smart and acerbic, and overall I enjoyed the show. However, I could never entirely believe the main premise of the story, and as it went along I found it progressively more unbelievable and overwrought.

Tessie (Gigi Bermingham), who cooks at home for a catering business, humorously berates her son Jimmy (Wolfie Trausch) in the morning for staying out all night "joyriding" with a gay friend she doesn't approve of. Jimmy goes to bed and Tessie goes about her work of baking. Later in the day her teenage son Conor (Nicholas Podany) loudly plays video games and orders food from his mother as if she's a laggard waitress, but she doesn't seem to mind. Things come to a head in the early evening, though, when her catering boss Dale Jr. (Julia Prud'homme) and Dale's husband Dale Sr. (Brendan Patrick Connor) show up with a life-changing agenda to implement.

Bermingham is fantastic as Tessie, chipper on the surface but gradually beginning to run down, like a machine that's finally about to break after long overuse. This is the deliberate opposite of a flashy, "look at me" performance, but Bermingham serves the play perfectly as you slowly realize what you've been seeing is only the tip of the iceberg, and the massive weight of the character's pain has been there all along. Podany is clearly talented, and the scenes where he confronts the Dales or where he has his final pleading conversation with his mother are expertly done. One small critique, however, is that he starts the show with full-blast intensity and then keeps it going at that level throughout, and his performance might be more credible if it was more emotionally varied.

Prud'homme is excellent as the overbearing Dale Jr., bullying the increasingly distant Tessie until the audience is hoping for justifiable homicide, and her delivery of a series of rants about the inherent virtues of women's lit and Nancy Meyers films is darkly hilarious. Connor is equally terrific as the creepy Dale Sr., particularly fine in a scene where he's trying to win over Conor ("I'm, like, a cool adult guy.") and failing miserably. Trausch exudes a loving calm as Jimmy, listening patiently to Tessie's teasing because he knows she means well.

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Director Joel Polis has Bermingham doing so much cooking business during the show — icing, peeling, cutting — that one almost expects to be handed out fresh pastries at the conclusion, but this builds the reality of Tessie's life in a thoroughly believable way. Whether that was written in the play or not, Polis' attention to detail in all aspects of the production pays off dividends of quality. Graf's writing is undeniably clever and funny, and her command of gamer trash talk is impressive, but the premise of the story seems contrived, an example of realistic drama hermetically sealed and boiled over into hothouse melodrama. Jeff McLaughlin's superb kitchen and den set looks like something out of Architectural Digest, grounding the reality of this tragic family.

"Hermetically Sealed" runs through December 18, 2011 at the Skylight Theatre. Tickets are available online.