James Wetzel, Brigitt Markusfeld and Paul Romero in Papermaker. (Facebook photo)

Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri

What happens when labor and management unexpectedly collide? Can the two sides learn from each other?

Papermaker, a two-act play by Monica Wood, made its regional debut this past weekend (Sept. 28-30) at the Chenango River Theatre in Greene. First performed in Maine in 2015, the play is constructed to convey heavy-handed lessons about what happens to a town, and the people in it, when there are limited options for compromise. While it is clearly written to elicit sympathy for the workers, and does so successfully, it also gives a nod to the idea that nothing good can happen when sides refuse to negotiate.

It’s a good premise, and one rich with possibilities to entertain and inform. But the tail tends to wag the dog here a bit. The playwright knows where she wants to go with the story, but to get us there, she includes a few too many clichés and a plot point (or two) too many.

Near the end of an acrid strike against a Maine paper mill, the president of that company finds that he has other business to attend to with his daughter. He wants the best for her —the best college, the best boyfriend, etc. — but their definitions of what those things might be are very different and are not too difficult for an alert audience to discern. We learn a lot about them as they make their way from New York City to a New Hampshire inn, having not quite as nice a time as they had hoped.

In the meantime, up a little farther in Maine, a family is being torn apart by illness, unemployment brought on by the strike and betrayal, all while finding ways to keep busy waiting for the strike to end.

CRT Artistic Director Bill Lelbach directed the able cast of three men and three women. He also designed the simple but effective set, with lighting by Julie Duro and costumes by Barbara Kahl. Heather Burton stage manages her third show at CRT with Papermaker, and Marc Rose provided the sound design.

Brigitt Markusfeld plays Marie, the pragmatic, down-to-earth matriarch of the Donahue family. Without giving too much away, I found her character to be the most relatable, for a number of reasons — just trust me on this.

Paul Romano as Ernie, her husband, is a simmering pressure cooker, ready to explode with righteous indignation for the cause of solidarity of the union. And explode he does, frequently and loudly. He turns it on and off when tenderness or fury is called for in the script, which forces Romano to flip the switch with little transition time. Roberto Forero plays their grown son, who often finds himself as the trigger for this long-suffering family’s angst. His performance is poignant, particularly in his exchanges with his mom.

Dori May Ganisin plays Nancy, a visiting nurse and home health aide recently returned to the workforce by circumstances in her own family. As Marie’s friend and confidante, Ganisin conveys Nancy’s likability and acerbic tendencies well, all while completing some well-timed stage business. That takes concentration and talent.

In the title role is James Wetzel as owner and CEO of Atlantic Paper, Henry McCoy. He is making his second appearance at Chenango River Theatre, following up a memorable and moving performance there in 2016’s Taking Sides.

Wetzel’s Henry is cavalier and self-absorbed.  He breaks the fourth wall from time to time to narrate. Think Kevin Spacey in House of Cards, or any good Shakespearean actor advancing the play.

Henry’s daughter, Emily, the most pivotal character in the play, is played by Annie Winneg. Much hangs on her relationship with her dad, whom she calls by his first name (like Jane Fonda does in On Golden Pond) and her acquaintances with the others in the play.

Winneg is expressive and wistful in her quest to find a sense of community wherever she can.  She has some funny moments, too.

You may spend some time trying not to cry during this play, but you probably will. So bring some tissues.

IF YOU GO: Papermaker, the final production of CRT’s 2018 season, runs 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 14 at the Chenango River Theatre, 991 State Highway 12, Greene.  For information and tickets, call 607-656-TIXX, or visit www.chenangorivertheatre.org.