Theatre : "On Island:" A new play that's close to home
This past Wednesday's performance of the play "On Island" had the feel of a sprawling family gathering. Standing alongside his parents and grandmother, the guest of honor, playwright Michael Domitrovich (MVRHS class of 1999) shook hands and air-kissed the friends, family, and well-wishers who set up their folding chairs on State Beach, chatted amiably about shared friends and history, and passed around plastic cups of wine. But when Mr. Domitrovich took the stage - actually a rocky breakwater - and began to speak, all traces of the amateur disappeared. The playwright, author of off-Broadway plays, "Sticky" (2006), "Real World Experience" (2007), and others, was in his element, as was the three-member cast.
The beach turned out to be the perfect venue for the play, which is set on an unspecified Vineyard beach. Working without props, scenery, or costume changes, the cast skillfully wove a story that is both universal and personal.
It centers on a young Greek-American who, minutes before his wedding, is struck with last-minute cold feet while waiting on the beach for his fiancée.
He turns to his older brother, who has always been the responsible one, for counsel. The conversation that follows reveals much of their shared life together, but also much of the universal experience of immigrants seeking to balance their loyalties between family and self, between their parents' culture and the dominant one.
The brothers' conversation takes an abrupt turn upon the arrival of the bride, who has been waiting for 10 minutes. Her fiancé is suddenly put in the position of having to choose the course of the rest of his life, and hers, right now. He must decide if she, in the words of his elder brother, "makes him feel alive."
What quick but decisive question can he ask her in order to determine their compatibility? His choice of question seems frivolous to the outsider, but the audience was tensely silent as she fielded it: Can she correctly recite, along with him, the lines of key scenes of his favorite movies?
Photos by Maia Smith
Like the two brothers, Domitrovich grew up on the Vineyard; like their parents, his parents run a popular restaurant, Lola's in Oak Bluffs. As a result, one cannot help but wonder how much of the play is autobiographical.
Mr. Domitrovich explains, "It's autobiographical in some places and entirely fictional in others. There are no ulterior motives...I was really proud of myself for seeing the distinction between autobiography and pure fiction. It was so good to write that and not have to prove anything, to just write a play."
Comparing "On-Island" to the reviews of his 2007 play, it is difficult to believe that both were written by the same man. Mr. Domitrovich explains, "I feel like after that play I reached a point where I was so jaded I felt the only place to go was sincerity. Where my last play was confrontational, this is just heartfelt. Sincerity is the new jaded."
And indeed, except for occasional strong language, there is nothing in "On-Island" that would offend. The play's Island roots are evident throughout, such as in the near-continuous volley of inside jokes that eluded this transplanted reporter but sent waves of laughter through the crowd. Even the venue reflects the frantic reality of an Island summer: Mr. Domitrovich's grandmother was not able to get away from the August rush even for an overnight, to see the play in New York; so instead he brought it to her. True to the nature of the Island grapevine, it became a community affair rather than a private showing. And even after the play was over, people conscientiously waited in a long line to exit rather than bypassing the narrow path and trampling the fragile dune grass.
"On Island:" audiences in New York and elsewhere will never know how apt that title is.
Aquinnah resident Maia Smith is a frequent contributor to The Times.