Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Theater review: Children at Bath House Culture Center
Follow this White Anglo-Saxon Protestant family on a journey of untold secrets.
LAKEWOOD The thread woven through the fabric of our lives is often fragile. The storyline of Children, currently being performed by WingSpan Theatre Company, reminds us of that, but this production was anything but fragile. The performances were strong, the script was superb, and the production crew’s attention to detail held it all together for an entertaining and thought-provoking experience.
Walking into the small, but efficient black box theatre, the set was the first indicator of the quality of the production. Scenic Designer Rodney Dobbs created a very realistic representation of the terrace of a New England summer home in 1970. Complete with stone foundation, potted geraniums and flower boxes, this set could have finished there. However, Dobbs’ attention to detail included a water bowl for a family pet and a doorstop inside the small part of the home that could be seen by the audience. Lighting Designer Dan Schoedel added to the atmosphere, by literally creating a light representation of the sky in the background which changed according to the time of day. As the show began, the audience was brought into the early morning hours with a sunrise. The detail of the set became clearer as Barbara, played by Amber Quinn, attempted to quietly enter the house unnoticed, despite noisy deck boards and a creaky screen door.
Lowell Sargeant used sound effects such as seagulls, water crashing onto shore, and vehicles pulling into and out of the unseen driveway at appropriate moments. Occasionally, it seemed a little too silent when the action was outside and there was no dialogue, but this gave the audience an opportunity to focus more on the stories being told in the actors’ faces.
Costume design by Christina Cook was thoughtful and appropriate for the time period. Barbara wore crisp cotton dresses and khaki capris with stylish shoes for several costume changes as the days and situations changed. Jane was often seen wearing cute skirt and top combinations with a sweater tied around her neck when she wasn’t dressed for tennis. Her “coming out” dress – pulled out of a closet for the occasion of a costume party – was cute and fitting, both to her character and to the situation. Mother was most often dressed in a pantsuit with slacks, shirt and light jackets, also very fitting to her character and to a summer in New England. Randy’s clothing was usually either a tennis outfit, or khaki pants and polo shirts. For the costume party, he donned a period football uniform, and his complete lack of a costume in a later part of the show was lighthearted and done tastefully.
The story takes place entirely on the terrace of the summer home of a WASP family. Mother, whose name is never revealed, is leaving the home to her three children, Barbara, Randy, and Pokey. The story is told through dialogue, with very little “action” to move the story along. The entire cast did an excellent job of keeping the energy high and making their dialogue believable while telling a story. There are three “characters” in the show that are never seen – Pokey, the youngest son, and his Jewish wife, Miriam; and Barbara’s love interest, who tended the family lawn when the children were growing up. These characters are introduced and interact with the family through dialogue. It was a fascinating feat on the part of both the playwright and the cast members to pull this off, and the WingSpan troupe did so with finesse.
Georgia Clinton’s portrayal of Mother as a strong but human woman of wealth was smooth and relaxed. Her use of facial expressions, tone, and movement created a well-rounded character. Mother needed to be watched every moment to catch the nuances of Clinton’s performance. Whether she was in a moment of calm as she talked to her children about the importance of keeping up appearances or in her lowest moment of weakness, she was believable and provided the audience with a glimpse of Mother’s entire life in each scene.
Catherine DuBord was fascinating to watch as Jane. The wife of Randy, Jane has a storm brewing within her that is fed by the arrival of Miriam and the freedom of her sister-in-law, Barbara. Although Jane has far fewer lines than the rest of the cast, the range of emotion in DuBord’s voice and facial expressions told stories in their own right. Casting DuBord in this role was a perfect choice.
Barbara, played by Amber Quinn, is the oldest of the children. Recently divorced and with children of her own, her struggle is between her upbringing and finding herself. Quinn’s performance was also spot on, and her attention to detail was evident as she was in character every second on stage.
Randy, the middle child, was expertly portrayed by Clay Wheeler. The character is fun, yet has depth, and Wheeler illuminated both ends of Randy’s spectrum. Whether he was bouncing around the stage in a towel or a football uniform, Wheeler portrayed a man who was mostly comfortable with his status and quietly steered by the women in his life. Wheeler’s performance, during conversations with his wife Jane, revealed a vulnerability that made Randy endearing, albeit self-centered.
Even though Children is focused on a genre of folk that most of us do not belong to, everyone who is a part of a family will find characters or situations that will be familiar. The exploration of the realities behind our actions and the fact that hidden secrets have a way of fighting their way to the surface is well worth embarking upon.
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