Triangle Arts and Entertainment – News and Reviews Theatre Dance Music Arts

Mark Cornell’s Carolyn Adams Is Full of Bellylaughs, as Well as Warm Smiles

A world premiere! Mark Cornell’s new comic drama, Carolyn Adams, produced by Full Nelson Theater, under the direction of Nancy Lane, opened at The ArtsCenter of Carrboro on Friday, Nov. 1st, and plays through Sunday, Nov. 10th.

The Story:

The action takes place in the back room of a used sporting-goods store in a small Northern California town. The store is owned and operated by John and Tom, a pair of lifelong friends now in their late sixties. It’s Monday night, and their friends Matt and Kevin join them for Monday Night Football (which they traditionally watch with the sound turned down so that they can talk).

John’s grandson Cooper and Cooper’s girlfriend Grace also drop in. Problem: Grace is the spitting image of an important person from John and Tom’s past — a girl for whom they both cared deeply. Her name was Carolyn Adams, and she was killed in a car accident 50 years ago. We soon learn that the two have been haunted by her memory.

This is a “slice-of-life” play, full of bellylaughs as well as warm smiles. Mark Cornell is a master at setting up gags and letting them spring when least expected. Also, there is a strong sense of camaraderie among these Monday Night Football fans — it is easy to see that they are all important to each other and that they have a definite, habitual pattern of behavior. In addition to putting witty words into the characters’ mouths, Mark Cornell also shows that he is quite adept at writing dialogue that reveals complex interpersonal relationships.

The Cast:

As John, Mark Jantzen shows a man who is committed to the tradition of this Monday night get-together with his close friends. Jantzen knows how to portray a “bumbler,” and he definitely knows how to act as though he has to pee. There was, however, something kind of tentative about his performance in the first several minutes on Sunday afternoon. It was as if Jantzen had not yet found his “groove.”

Paul Newell’s Tom is convincingly “shell-shocked.” He had been the first to encounter this apparent reincarnation of Carolyn Adams, and he is the most deeply affected. Newell deftly layers his character with the haunting memories and the drinking problem and his “mountain of regrets.”.

Ryan McDaniel’s Matt feels a certain loyalty to John, and that feeling comes across clearly, even before we find out the reason.

Evit Emerson’s Kevin is the most dynamic of the characters. When Emerson came on stage during Sunday afternoon’s performance, the pace picked up, and “edges” that had seemed a bit “rough” smoothed out.

Will Pierson’s Cooper shows a definite attachment to both his grandfather and his girlfriend. Gwyneth Benitez-Graham is at her most enchanting when Grace shares her worries about the dreams she has been having.

The Tech:

The program lists John Paul Middlesworth as “set builder.” Presumably, he gets the credit for the meticulous details of this oh-so-authentic back-room-of-a-used-sporting-goods-store that appears on this stage. Kudos!

All other production values, including lighting (designed by Mia Carson), are on point.

From the Department of Picky-Picky: There is a point near the end when the lights go out and a sign that reads “REPLAY” in red lights comes on. We were confused as to just what that might signify.


Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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