By Beki Pineda

THE GHOSTS OF US. Written by Rebecca Gorman O’Neill; directed by Melissa McCarl. Produced by the Athena Project (performing in the Byron Theatre at the Newman Center, 2344 East Iliff Ave., Denver) through April 10. Tickets available at 303-219-0882 or www.athenaprojectfestival.org.

A word about the Athena Project first. This is a once-a-year event that celebrates the role of women in the arts and features performances in dance, fashion, music and visual arts as well as theater. Their Plays in Progress series mentors younger female playwrights creating scripts that address issues of concern to their age group. The Athena Project also accepts new-play submissions by professional female playwrights. Four original scripts are given slimmed-down productions, with one chosen to receive a full treatment in the next year’s festival.

That is the path Ms. Gorman-McNeill’s play took toward this full production. It’s easy to see why it was chosen. She has a gift with dialogue that is quick and natural. She provides her actors with clearly delineated characters and places them in an environment that allows an interesting dynamic to unfold.  She does not allow incredible coincidence to creep into the scene but provides perfectly logical reasons for all four characters to be present and creates a back story for each that makes sense. I have issues with the last 10 seconds of the evening but have no less-dramatic ending to offer as a substitute.

In essence, a married couple—Emma and Jackson—are getting a divorce. But before the papers can be signed, a long-ago and ill-conceived pre-nup condition has to be fulfilled: They have to spend 36 hours together in isolation as a last-ditch effort to save their marriage. A cabin in the woods has been selected as the meeting place. Aiden, a friend to both, is invited to be a witness for Jackson, while Sophie, Emma’s older sister and lawyer, serves as her witness. Aiden is silently in love with Emma and regretful that he ever introduced her to Jackson. Sophie is an incorrigible flirt, and it’s easy to see what one of the major problems in the marriage was when she and Jackson find themselves alone for a few minutes. Emma and Jackson are in different emotional places in their separation process but honestly strive to achieve an understanding without hurting each other too much. No spoilers here; let’s just say the evening ends satisfactorily for three out of the four characters.

Melissa McCarl’s direction is always crisp and clear, but she hit pay dirt with this cast. The lookalikes Regina Steffan as Emma and Arlene Rapal as Sophie have the easy, full-of-history air of sisters. They jump into old arguments and incidents with the familiarity of family. Kevin Lowry as Jackson is both sexy and tender, and it’s easy to see why it would be hard to let him go. Ben Cowhick brings an unnerving tension into the room as Aiden. I have to admit I had to ask who was playing Aiden because Ben’s physical appearance was so absorbed by his character that he was unrecognizable. All four fit together in telling the story and in letting the relationships change before our eyes. The highest compliment I can pay this production is that it didn’t feel or sound like a new play.
Ms. Gorman-O’Neill provided a terrific and unexpected Act I “Perils of Pauline”–type ending that shocked you and made you laugh at the same time. The marriage issues were resolved with a sweet “Rabbit Hole” solution: Just live day to day. Now, if we could just find something else to do with the last 10 seconds.

WOW factor: 9