May 14 2014 12:00 AM

The women in Riverwalk comedic drama play with the truth

The title of Riverwalk Theatre’s latest black box production, “Telling Lives,” may be a play on “telling lies,” or it may be that the circumstances in which each character finds herself is Review telling of the life she has led. As uninteresting as their lives end up being, it is a relief that they can be told in just over 90 minutes.

The lives belong to three generations of women in one fractured family. Matriarch Ruth (Eve Davidson) got married young to a dentist and became a woman of class and society. Daughter Geri (Amy Rickett) is a workaholic whose drive to succeed resulted in a divorce and a resentful child, Rachel (Michelle Lerma). Rachel pours her angst into a stage play that is a pointed criticism of her mother. While Geri and Rachel are barely speaking, both turn to Ruth for solace.

Ruth has written her memoir, and presents it to Geri for feedback. As the plot unfolds, it turns out that a key external motivator influenced Ruth to do so, and she is forced to reveal a deep secret that she has harbored for over 40 years. Relationships between all three women are tested, although these tests are akin to pop quizzes lacking in serious consequences.

Playwright Faye Sholiton is earnest in her desire to create complex, three-dimensional characters; the execution, however, is flawed. Important revelations that hint at a character’s motivation are often buried in a single line of dialogue, and when the actors turn away from the audience, many of these critical clues are lost to the backdrop.

Rickett, who is capable of much more depth in her acting, plays Geri at the same level of emotional intensity throughout the play: Either mildly frustrated, mildly annoyed, or mildly nostalgic. Lerma is fine as a surly 24-year-old who thinks the world owes her an explanation. Unfortunately, there is little in the script to make her the least bit sympathetic.

Eve Davidson is the saving grace for the production. She grasps who Ruth is: A woman who valued motherhood so much that she endured an ugly marriage to provide happiness and a bright future for her daughters. Davidson imbues her character with the dignity and self-satisfaction that comes with age and wisdom. She also nails the scary moments when Ruth is struck with debilitating disorientation.

Sholiton is so keen on creating a happy ending that an issue such as Ruth’s fear of developing mental illness is swept aside almost literally with the wave of a hand. And the big secret that Ruth has been protecting ends up being disappointingly innocuous. In these three lives, there really isn’t that much to tell.

“Telling Lives”

Riverwalk Theatre 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 16 -18; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 18 $12/$10 students/seniors/ military 228 Museum Drive, Lansing (517) 482-5700;