“Shrimp & Gritts: She’s Gone,” which opened last night at Oregon Contemporary Theatre, is as charming and engaging a new play as I’ve seen in years – a sensitive, funny love story of contemporary life, mostly set in a cheesy bar on the Oregon coast.
The full-length drama by Eugene’s own Paul Calandrino explores the complicated relationship of Gritts, a retired merchant seaman played by Bary Shaw, and Shrimp, his lesbian best friend, played by Rebecca Nachison. Both are charmingly alcoholic and sardonically witty and both miss Serena, Gritts’ partner of 15 years, who has walked out of their lives and left them to find their own ways alone and together.
Shaw and Nachison play the two old barflies as though they were born to the roles. Shaw’s Gritts is a bit aloof and grandiose, riffing at one point about being God, while Nachison’s Shrimp is alternately sweet and dry.
Providing a counterpoint to this AARP-age pair are the younger couple Ruud (Cloud Pemble) and Clementine (Tara Wibrew), a folky duo who perform in the bar and whose relationship has its own bumps along the way. Their music – Wibrew and Pemble are actually better than a lot of bar acts you’ll ever encounter – offers a perfect series of interludes to the main story.
The play is performed on a realistic set by Amy Dunn — you can just about smell the beer and seaweed — and is directed by Brian Haimbach, head of the theater program at Lane Community College.
In the program, he notes that – unlike many new plays these days – “Shrimp & Gritts” has not been workshopped, a process that polishes scripts but also homogenizes them.
Instead, he writes, it is “just a really (really) strong first draft.” This could well explain the script’s sparkling freshness and drive. Calandrino, who runs the Northwest Festival of Ten-Minute Plays here, also wrote “The Final Leg,” produced by OCT in 2005.
“Shrimp & Gritts” runs at OCT through August 20. This is one not to miss.