River Walk Journal, Vol. 2, Issue 6
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ross
“An engrossing group of plays…”
In Gail’s Place, Tom Anselmo has given readers an intriguing way to explore moral ambiguity in relationships. Beginning in the first play, loyalty to friends and family stands in direct contradiction with the greater good.
Gail is a well meaning, sometimes overbearing school counselor who has a reputation with her family and friends for giving her ten cents worth of advice – even when no one asked. Through these three plays, readers are shown Gail’s growth and increased understanding about moral dilemmas so often avoided for the sake of political correctness in today’s world.
Gail’s husband Ron is less outgoing, albeit a decent man. We follow his journey to the inevitable crossroads where speaking out on moral dilemmas regardless of the social consequences is right. His road is a bit longer than Gail’s, but is satisfying. His deep-seated decency serves as an excellent starting point.
From domestic violence to workplace sexual harassment, Anselmo jumps in feet first, examining the fallacy of political correctness in the handling of these issues. The double-edged sword that on one side condemns these behaviors, and on the other, encourages friends and family of offenders to avoid the subject is scathingly illustrated in these three plays.
While readers who are familiar with the theatrical trade may become a little mired in considering the logistics of staging these plays, their message is strong enough to keep the pages turning – rapidly. Gail’s Place is an engrossing group of plays that, beyond the audience of general readers, would be useful to instructors and students of theatre, psychology and women’s studies.
Roundtable Reviews, http://www.roundtablereviews.com
Reviewed by Wendall Sexton
“fascinating… the secrets we keep, alongside the social responsibility we share is delivered with readable aplomb.”
A trilogy of two-act plays can appear an unappealing prospect for any reading enjoyment, but with Tom Anselmo’s Gail’s Place, a fascinating gaze into the realm of the secrets we keep, alongside the social responsibility we share, is delivered with readable aplomb.
Each of the three plays, while easily standing on their own, are also chronologically connected. What transpires in ‘Secret Burdens’ rolls over into ‘Clues’; and what happens in ‘Clues’ has an immediate baring upon the resolutions Gail and Ron come to in ‘The Place”.
Everything begins in ‘Secret Burdens’ with the planning of a 25th anniversary party by Gail and her husband Ron for their friends Ted and Lily. Included in the invitations are Lily’s sister Margaret, Ted’s brother Tony, Ted’s coworker Mark, and Mark’s new girlfriend Evelyn. The problem everyone faces is Mark. He is the unknown factor, as he has requested that everyone keep the relationship he had with Margaret, secret from Evelyn.
However, as the party unfolds and conversation takes place, the secret of Mark’s relationship with Margaret reveals itself as more than simply two people who broke up two years ago. While everyone maintains the integrity of the secret, Mark is still shown as one who drinks a bit too much, is prone to irrational outbursts, which lends itself to physical abuse in his relationships.
Should Gail inform Evelyn of this, or should she maintain the civility of the party (in deference to Ted and Lily), hoping Evelyn will grasp the reality of Mark’s volatile nature before it’s too late?
What would you do?
Such stands the theme of ‘Secret Burdens’. It flows over into ‘Clues’ when Evelyn is discovered in her apartment, the victim of an apparent accident that has left her in a coma.
Or was it an accident? Police detectives investigate. They talk to Gail and Ron, Ted and Lily. There is suspicion that Mark is involved, making what happened to Evelyn not much of an accident at all, and raising the bar of responsibility back onto Gail’s shoulders.
If she had alerted Evelyn to Mark’s abusive past when they met at the party, would Evelyn be safe today? Or would such warning have fallen on deaf ears? Evelyn herself, in an exchange with the others that evening, commented on how she saw no advantage in knowing of someone’s past. It is the person in the present that you love.
Such questions as to social responsibility run over into the third play, ‘The Place’, where Gail’s husband Ron is faced with a similar scenario of keeping a secret to maintain social order or letting the truth be told for the good of everyone involved.
Ron’s friend and fellow college instructor Carl has just been promoted. He and Gail are again throwing a party in celebration. However, Carl has also been accused by a student of sexual harassment. What is the truth? And what will Ron do in response to that truth? What did he learn from the episode with Mark and Evelyn?
Initially, all appears a ploy by the student to enact retaliation against Carl, her instructor, for a poor grade. When Ron begins considering the issue further, he isn’t so certain. Are the insinuations against Carl true or not? More importantly, how will Ron respond to Carl if they are?
Normally, morality plays come across as preachy, never considering fully all sides of the issue addressed. Here with Gail’s Place, such is not the case. Tom Anselmo impressively gives all his characters their own voice, allowing them a turn to voice their opinions.
The issue of whether or not to fully disclose everything when entering into a relationship, I found myself vacillating a bit on that one. I have always believed in complete honesty and communication in a relationship; but the idea of living in the moment of who the person is now, it also has merit.
So Anselmo fully presents both sides, making Gail’s Place decidedly not preachy, as well as not overtly dramatic. There is no overacting. This is merely the interactions of a group of friends, the troubles they face, and how they can, or cannot, resolve them.
Book Pleasures, http://www.bookpleasures.com
Reviewed by Ernst Dempsey
“…place Anselmo’s book among lovable reads.”
Thomas Hardy didactically preserved his Tess, a young woman who attempted to be honest in her intimate relationship by revealing her secret, and thus ended at the gallows. Tom Anselmo takes care to let his Gail clinch a footing in both her inner and social worlds as she unveils the mask of falsity in relationships. Anselmo’s first volume of plays is a trilogy of two-act plays by the title Gail’s Place (Red Brindle Press, New York, 2006, 1st printing). While each plays stands on its own plot, central to all is Gail Stanza’s character, a woman who is bent on reconciling her inner self with that of her social role by cracking secrets that tend to stifle one’s individuality and true identity.
The opening play ‘Secret Burdens’ centers Gail Stanza at the heart of their party in the honor of their friends’ marriage anniversary. While Lily attributes her marriage’s success to care in keeping secrets from the spouse, as do Mark and Evelyn, Gail is disposed nearly in excess to resurrect past grievances so as to ensure calm in the future. Gail’s character has no hint of sullenness about her and so the audience is likely to appreciate her assertiveness as the moral implications of it unfold.
‘Clues’ starts as a detective drama with Evelyn Harper lying in coma in the hospital. Gail’s speculations about Mark are turning into reality and the question of responsibility arises from the depth of Gail’s character. We meet Gail’s inner self, personified, and conversing with Gail over shutting down of vital human sensibilities. Gail’s self-conscious speech makes her a lovable character: ‘I have the distinguished honor of being a big-mouth.’ And her pride in her truthfulness is an impetus to secretive sufferers like Margaret: ‘I’m glad I don’t have the kind of ties that turn us into moral pretzels.’ As Gail scatters the shards of hypocrisy for good, Lily sees her own inner self, clad in a shroud, rising and walking. Anselmo’s genius shows, not tells, how to connect with your being’s center.
The third play ‘The Place’ moves the argument closer into Gail’s home as her husband Ron finds himself at odds with his inner self against his colleague’s promotion grounded on Ron’s support. Carl is suspected of sexual harassment of one of his students. Again it is Gail who goads her husband to act in harmony with his inner voice. Gail’s personified, abstract, self finds a mate in form of Ron’s resurrected center. Alongside we see the false consciousness of Lynn, Carl’s wife, who accepts compromise as matter of course.
Anselmo has fixed the familiar signboard of serious drama in the history of modern literature. With no foul language, no hip-hop mania, conscientious protagonists, and character-driven situations, Anselmo’s plays speak the truth about the nature of secrets, their implications, and behavioral significance.
The serious subject matter and ease of writing style place Anselmo’s book among lovable reads.
Curled Up with a Good Book, http://www.curledup.com
Reviewed by Luan Gaines
One character is central to all three plays in Gail’s Place (‘Secret Burdens,’ ‘Clues,’ and ‘The Place’), that rare woman who is unable to sustain any form of artifice when dealing with other people, secrecy anathema to her nature. All of the other characters react to Gail’s unflinching honesty in one way or another; some finding it refreshing, others intimidating.
Gail remains the catalyst for the unfolding dramas in all three plays, particularly “the implications of keeping (or not keeping) secrets.” In the first play, the others defer to the wishes of one character, a single man, when he requests that they all remain silent about his prior relationship with one of the guests at an anniversary party hosted by Gail and her husband, discomfited by her outspokenness.
At the anniversary party (‘Secret Burdens’), the guests respect the man’s desire for keeping his former affair secret from his date, but complications arise as the dinner progresses, especially when the alcohol consumption releases the party-goers inhibitions. Unfortunately, the truth comes out.
Although the guests’ reactions vary, it is clear that it is all but impossible for a large group to keep information of this nature to themselves, allowing for personality differences and personal agendas. The result is an awkward situation for everyone and embarrassment for the young woman who did not know of her date’s history.
‘Clues’ is a more complex rendering of a friendship between Gail and her best friend, Lily, as the women are forced to confront their duplicity at the party and the possible consequences for the man’s date, Evelyn. It seems that Evelyn was found unconscious on her living room floor, and the friends debate the man’s possible involvement, given his past history of domestic violence.
Gail and Lily’s contretemps is directly related to their silence at the party and afterwards, when one of them might have said something to Evelyn: “Everyone’s looking the other way to maintain the lie… all to cushion the effect of the truth.” When Evelyn, dies, two detectives attempt to put together what information they can glean from the people at the party.
In the final play, the focus shifts from Gail and her friends to her communication with her husband, Ron, and how the intimacy of their marriage is affected by their decisions to ignore the integrity of their position vis-à-vis others. The element of secrecy predominates throughout, Gail’s tenacity finally rewarded by her husband’s courage as they reach a “place” where both are validated as individuals and as a couple.
Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2006