Is there a term for baby birds that leave the nest too soon? In lack of one, let’s substitute Amelia Roper’s Lottie in the Late Afternoon, an overlong if not ambitious look at adult female friendships and their complexities. While offering some hard-hitting — and oftentimes uncomfortable — truths about the stutter-stop, give-and-take of conversations, it’s also a play that hasn’t quite ironed out its kinks. Bear in mind: it isn’t the playwright, cast, or production company’s fault; simply a matter of there not having been enough time to workshop what’s been working and what hasn’t.
Which is, perhaps ironically, something Roper’s characters could relate to.
Set over the course of a weekend, Lottie in the Late Afternoon details the neurotic and slightly (very) self-involved Lottie’s attempts at reconnecting with her old friends: troubled romantic Clara (Michala Bonas), who’s having an affair with boisterous and carefree Anne (Fowler). The trouble is, none of the four (Lottie’s brought along her shoe-shuffling, almost embarrassingly puppy dog like of a husband, Ryan ) are gifted at the art of reconnecting. Nor do they really seem to be trying — sentences lunge past one another with all the force and none of the aim of a saboteur; none of the women seem to really know one another intimately, and so stumble through the appearance of friendships. And so the weekend progresses, full of silent scenes, uncomfortable attempts at Scrabble, the almost Sisyphean task of figuring out what to cook for lunch, and just about as much non-sequiturs as you’d expect in ordinary conversation.
The titular Lottie is far from an ideal host. She’s everyone’s worst idiosyncrasies bundled into one: hyper focused on performing at her best, rather than simply trying; freakishly capable of turning offhand comments into criticisms of herself; and perhaps most painfully, ignorant of her behaviour, let alone the moods of those around her. Laura Maitland makes it clear why people have been drawn towards her in the past, though; she’s a loping, effusive, unpredictable giraffe, one whose gifted smiles and steely determination to make something out of a bad situation is impressive. By contrast, Bonas brings a much more understated, prickly charm to stiff-jawed Clara. (The difference in heights between the two adds to an unexpected hilarity.) Unlike in other stories, her lesbian character is given enough grist to be more than just a sexuality, as evidenced by her codependent relationship with alcohol. Fowler and Linc Hasler, as Lottie’s husband Ryan, round out the lot with slightly less compelling takes on straightforward female friend, and sweet but simple.
A complex, uncomfortable blend to bring away on a weekend? Yes — but, Roper and co seem to say, which friendship group isn’t? And by the end of a weekend such as this, who wouldn’t expect things to have deteriorated?
All in all, there’s much to like about the idea of Lottie in the Late Afternoon. However, it’s sheer unpredictability, length and wavering plot means that a lot of the humour falls flat or simply uncomfortable, and the cast in particular seem aware of it. The small, enclosed set means it’s impossible not to track the audience’s polite reactions or lack thereof, and the result is an increasingly determined attempt at dialling up humour that should simply be inferred, snapping out lines, or sharpening the edges of a character until it’s hard to swallow. That, combined with scenes that simply don’t have a reason to stay in, make this play feel rather like the tricky friendships it details. Or in other words, not something you’d want to linger on.