By Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich
By Lia Romeo
Presented by Forward Flux Productions
At Kaladi Brothers/Gay City
September 16th through October 3rd
“Every day is the same. Until it isn’t .”
I was excited to see Forward Flux’s productions of Still Life and Green Whales. Director Wesley Frugé and actor Pilar O’Connell came on my podcast to talk about the shows a few weeks ago (LINK: http://theatricalmustang.podbean.com/e/wesley-fruge-and-pilar-oconnell) and their passion and enthusiasm about these projects was infectious.
I walked into the intimate theatre space, which seats 40 and immediately felt at home. My seat was on the stage itself, with actors often so close I could touch them.
First up was Still Life, a world-premiere play that was short-listed for The Kilroy’s List this year (LINK: http://thekilroys.org/list-2015) Gretchen Douma plays Lydia, a travel agent whose daily lunch time calls with her daughter are captured by a mysterious and frenetic photographer, played by Pilar O’Connell. O’Connell is especially strong, keeping the audience guessing about who she is and what her intentions are until the very end.
Douma portrays Lydia with an earnestness and vulnerability that made me want to call my mother as soon as the play was over. In the second scene, she is surprised by her son-in-law, Donald, played Brandon J Simmons, hastily entering her apartment. Donald delivers the news that his wife (her daughter) called him from a subway platform moments before multiple trains exploded in a terrorist attack. Simmons embodies his role as committed husband/exasperated son-in-law with a remarkable agility that leaps from the heartbreaking to the hilariously jaded and back again.
What unfolds is a poignant story that explores grief and humanity. The play is intricately crafted and each actor brings their all, culminating in a final scene with all three characters which plays like a baroque trio, each actor performing perfectly in both rhythm and musicality.
Green Whales is a dark comedy written by Lia Romeo. Rachel Anne Godbe plays Karen, a 39 year old with a chromosomal disorder that makes her look like a teenager. The play opens with her and her sister, Joanna, played by Leslie Wisdom, just after their mother’s funeral. Joanna is an aspiring actress with a complicated relationship with both alcohol and her boyfriend Ray, played by Craig Peterson.
The relationship between the sisters is at the core of the piece. Godbe is striking as the professor who teaches online so her students can’t see that she looks younger than they do. Wisdom portrays Joanna with a ferocity and open heart that makes the audience fall in love with her.
Joanna is hell-bent on finding her older sister a suitor to keep her from moving back to Chicago. When Ray reveals that he brought in a man for questioning earlier that day who had been watching a girls soccer practice at the junior high, Joanna is struck by the idea that she could set Karen up with this possible pedophile.
Enter Clayton Michael as Ian, with enough handsome charm and sincerity that the audience is temporarily disarmed until they remember he believes Karen to be 14. And she’s unsure if she wants to correct him and tell him her real age.
What follows is twisted romantic comedy with plenty of “should I really be laughing at this?” moments. Peterson is a comedic gem as the bro of a policeman who can’t decide if he wants to commit. I was also impressed with Godbe’s range as an actor: she transitions seamlessly from the sensible sister, to the coquettish faux-14 year old and ultimately a woman who finds her voice and reaches out for what she most desires.
Director Wesley Frugé is a revelation. He has created a night of character-driven theatre that delights and challenges the audience and champions women playwrights. Also noteworthy is the tiered ticket structure that he has implemented: tickets start at $5 and go up to VIP packages that include valet parking, drinks and food to subsidize the cheaper tickets that allow greater access to the productions.
Even though Green Whales is billed as the comedy, I’ll admit that I was laughing just as hard during Still Life. The two plays elevate each other as partner pieces that give the audience a window into how complex humans and their relationships are.
You have until October 3rd to see both shows, and I encourage you to do so! See them both on the same night, or spread them out over a few days, a la carte.
By Katie Woodzick