Think of a suburban neighborhood—the kind that is mostly quiet, where neighbors all know each other by name and often greet each other from day to day, help each other with errands and the few odd folks on the block are still thought of as “quirky.” Add a touch of unlikely scandal—the kind that has parents meet their kids at bus stops instead of letting them walk home from the school bus drop-off point—and one has the world premiere of “Agreed Upon Fictions” written by Shayne Kennedy and directed by Megan Shuchman at 16th Street Theater.
The show questions how well anyone knows the person in the house next door. It also examines the lengths a person would go to in order to protect the people they care for most. These themes make “Agreed Upon Fictions” apt for 16th Street Theater’s “How to Be Good” season.
The script’s main plot—that Harold (Nick Polus), an elderly man who lives in a house full of trash and becomes the most feared man on the block because of sordid materials found in his home—feels like a bit of a stretch. It also seems like Kennedy piled quite a bit on her supporting actors as Harold’s neighbors—a family of Katie (Julie Ganey), Brian (Ed Dzialo) and their son Daniel (Theo Tougne)— happen to have a sister-in-law (Dawn, played by Lauren Fisher) who works at the church Harold attends and a brother/brother-in-law (Mal, played by Malcolm Callan) who is Harold’s arresting officer. Though it could be plausible, it makes the interactions between each of the characters at times feel too heightened, sometimes to a point that makes them just shy of unbelievable.
However, Polus and Ganey’s connection on stage is strong. Ganey presents Katie as someone who is truly torn between seeing the good at the heart of every person and shutting Harold out of her life as so many of the other people around her do without being fazed, mainly because they had all believed he was a little crazy before any ignominy surrounded him. Polus presents Harold as someone who leaves one constantly wondering if he could really be the contemptible person everyone else thinks he is.
The script was first developed as part of Downstage Left’s Leapfest. If nothing else, “Agreed Upon Fictions” challenges viewers to ask how/if one should forgive someone who’s betrayed one’s trust, especially when everything one cares for is at stake. (Mary Kroeck)
16th Street Theater, 6420 16th Street, Berwyn, (708)795-6704, 16thstreettheater.org. $18. Through October 25.