A Ghost Story: Purple Rose’s world premiere of the humorous but serious "In Common" explores friends struggling with relationships, past and present


The cast of Purple Rose's In Common gather on a stage set up like a living room.

Hungry Ghosts: Cyrus (Dez Walker), Melanie (Caitlin Cavannaugh), Vivian (Olivia Miller), Hal (Rusty Mewha), and Blair (Rachel Keown) have a lot In Common at Purple Rose. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

A young woman races about frantically trying on one dress after another. She’s going out to meet with friends who want to introduce her to a man. But she’s not sure she’s ready yet. 

Melanie is haunted by a memory. Her friend, confidante, and soulmate was killed after an incident in a bar. She watched it happen and saw him taken away by police. Melanie is white, her friend Cyrus was black. Another case of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people. 

Cyrus died, but to Melanie he’s still alive, still giving her advice, still making her laugh. Recreational drugs and prescribed drugs don’t relieve her sense of guilt. But now, with the help of her friends, she grasps for something new.

The Purple Rose Theatre is presenting the world premiere of playwright Quinn D. Eli’s In Common, a play that balances a caustic sense of humor with a serious look at complicated relationships in a complicated urban environment. 

Director Rhiannon Ragland and her excellent cast get the balance just right. The setting is, as Eli notes, “American, urban, Brooklynesque” and the time is “two years after Obama.” Things are more than a little uneasy, but Melanie and her friends are working through it.

Melanie is a freelance journalist struggling with a story that touches too close to the tale that haunts her. Her friends Blair and Vivian are a lesbian couple who are struggling to keep their relationship alive. Their friend Hal is an old boyfriend of Vivian’s; they dated after he divorced his wife. Melanie thinks he may be the one to drive away the ghost—or will he?

Caitlin Cavannaugh’s Melanie is an interesting blend of determined optimism and deep-seated melancholy. Cavannaugh pulls this off perfectly. Her frantic search for the right dress sets the stage for the on-again, off-again progress out of her grief. Melanie is a character who wants happiness but is skeptical of what that even means. Cavannaugh gets that just right.

Dez Walker is Cyrus, the memory that won’t go away. For Melanie, it’s both a curse and a comfort. Walker’s Cyrus is sharp, funny, and a bit goofy. Cyrus is the warmth of a close relationship, a soul mate who keeps Melanie going. Walker makes Cyrus the lovable, humane man Melanie lost.

Olivia Miller plays the vulnerable Vivian. She's Asian-American, bisexual, and still uncertain where she belongs. Miller has a frantic dress scene of her own as she plows through wedding dresses for a planned renewal of her vows with her wife, Blair. Miller captures Vivian’s nervous, unsettled personality. 

Rachel Keown plays the sharp-tongued, cynical but deeply sensitive Blair, who is a force. She’s got a funny, lacerating retort to everything. She’s hard, suspicious, and angry. She plays it tough, wearing leather vests and biker boots. Keown gets a lion’s share of the laughs with Blair’s caustic remarks, but she also has one of the most difficult scenes in the play. She delivers a soliloquy that redefines Blair’s character and Melanie’s problem. 

Rusty Mewha plays Hal, a slick talker and man about town. He works out every day. He’s a smooth operator. Mewha captures Hal’s charms and his flaws. Hal is the kind of guy who always wants the spotlight on himself.

Sarah Pearline’s set design gives Melanie’s apartment a real uptown look. It’s also very flexible for creating the play's other locations with simple adjustments.

Eli has a great ear for urban conversation and for the life of men and women in their 30s who are still trying to find themselves. Eli notes that many things separate us, but he also writes, “I’m still enough of an optimist to say that, in the end, we share far more in common.”

Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently the managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.

Quinn D. Eli’s “In Common” continues through June 3 at the Purple Rose Theatre, 137 Park Street, Chelsea. For information and tickets, call 734-7673 or visit purplerosetheatre.org.