This production was scheduled January 12-14, 2024.

If you’re interested in participating in a poignant, heartfelt conversation about love, death, and how relationships begin and end, you might check out By the Sea Productions’ staged reading of Norm Foster’s 2013 play On a First Name Basis, playing this weekend only in Morro Bay.

Sure, as an audience member your participation may be a bit limited, as only two characters, David (Jim Allen) and Lucy (Laura Richie) get to actually talk to each other during the two-hour (including 15-minute intermission) production. But you are guaranteed to feel like you have a stake in the back-and-forth, as the dialogue will likely provoke questions and memory searches of your own as you listen in to this lively exchange.

Lucy is an intelligent, curious woman who has served as a housekeeper for almost 30 years for David, a wealthy and successful writer who has been through three marriages (and in some ways is a bit clueless about how the world really works). But like Lucy, this particular evening he finds himself alone but not necessarily lonely—that’s only one distinction the two probe as part of their problematic discussion that in the end covers quite a bit of their decades-long relationship. And that relationship itself brings up many interesting distinctions between the two: employee/employer, observer/observed, female/male, and more.

Director Lisa Woske has chosen to allow her actors in this reading to do a bit more than just sit and read their scripts—they move around a set dressed appropriately as his study, and their characters partake liberally of the lubricants (fine wine among them) that increasingly facilitate the free expression of secrets that each have been harboring, which of course emerge during an increasingly revealing second act.

Once Allen as David and Richie as Lucy have settled into a comfortable rhythm during the first act, they take the script wholeheartedly to a place where, especially in the second act, they draw the audience into their one-on-one with real emotion and empathy. Allen is eloquent, with a natural and pleasing range of vocal and emotional expression, and Richie proves adept at playing someone who while holding her own in a battle of wits, can still express a bit of the chip she carries around on her shoulder. She can play uncomfortable and vulnerable all at the same time.

Kudos to all, including crew members Rhonda Crowfoot and Samvel Gottlieb, as this small troupe delivers big ideas for us to ponder, and makes us wonder what happens to these two characters after their evening, and ours, comes to a close. In the end, the characters agree that their discussion has been “quite the evening,” and “an eye-opener.” Indeed, On a First Name Basis makes you think about the assumptions you make every day, and what might happen if you take a chance and take a closer look at the people around you. Not a bad way to start a new year!

:: Charlotte Alexander