Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Theater review: Three southern women turn WWII poster children in The Cover of Life at Irving Arts Center
What will become of their husbands who are physically fighting the war?
IRVING Five women share their lives and support each other in a small town in Louisiana. There are laughs. There are intense moments of heart-wrenching drama. In the end, all of the characters have experienced wonderful arcs and are not the same as when the play began. It's not the play you're thinking of. It's The Cover of Life by R. T. Robinson. However, if you love Steel Magnolias, you'll like this play.
ICT Mainstage brings to life the story of a family of women; three women all married to a group of brothers fighting in World War II and their mother-in-law, living together to share expenses when LIFE magazine thinks it will make a great human interest story. Kate Miller, a career-oriented New York City woman, is sent to their tiny town of “3,000 good Christians” to get their stories. What she found was more than she expected.
All of the actors turn in fantastic performances, making the audience empathize with their situations and drawing them into their world. The wordiness of the script flows naturally from each person. Zinging one-liners pepper the early half of the script and all are delivered impeccably. Later, the script develops more sorrowful undertones as the tension between the family members rises and the truth of their husbands is revealed. Each actress is given opportunities to shine and they are not wasted.
Caitlin Mills Duree as Sybil Cliffert has the widest arc to traverse with her character. She shows masterful skill, moving from the sultry, modern southern woman to someone heart-broken, abandoned and angry. Her monologues make great attempts to steal the show. All other performers must raise their performances to keep up with her, which they do, and the whole show benefits from it.
As Tood Cliffert, Bailey Lawrence shows the most character growth from beginning to end. Her performance vacillates between despairing and hopeful and keeps the audience riveted. After the show I found myself wondering about the final outcome of her character (it's left ambiguous in the script). Great performances stick with you after you leave the theater and Miss Lawrence turns in a very strong one.
Amber Devlin and Karen Matheny bring great depth to their roles in the Cliffert family. Aunt Ola, played by Devlin, is the girls' mother-in-law, a simple country woman whose looks betray her age. As she says, “It ain't the years, it's the miles.” Devlin's portrayal, like her character, is wonderfully simple but full of life. Matheny, as Weetsie Cliffert, is the conservative woman bent on preserving the family and its traditions, as well as ensuring she adopts the matriarch role after Aunt Ola passes. Matheny gives the rest of the actresses a firm baseline from which to guide their performances. Her character shows little evolution but her portrayal is infallible.
Finally, Kate Miller is the New York City reporter thrown into the lives of these women at the request of her boss, Harold Luce, the editor-in-chief of LIFE magazine. She's reluctant and wary of leaving her cosmopolitan life to live temporarily amongst the bumpkins of Sterlington, Louisiana. However, her experiences with the Clifferts, especially Tood, inspire her and change her life. Lucia A. Welch has quite the challenge set in front of her to tackle such a role. Nevertheless, she is adept and acts as the thread that ties the show together.
Technically, ICT Mainstage's production of The Cover of Life is very simple, a technique I always enjoy. The set is nothing but a few platforms decorated with the necessary household tables and chairs and a frame of a house in the background. This is very effective at keeping the focus on the actors and it works beautifully.
The sound design is sparse, with just a few necessary effects which are well chosen and placed. Also, time period appropriate music is used to fill the seconds between scenes. Robin Stephens' choice to use original recordings, not the digitally “cleaned up” versions, cements the audience's perception in 1943.
Most problematic for The Cover of Life is the lighting design. For the most part it is brilliant, with colors reflecting the mood or theme of a scene; however, there are several places when more coverage is needed as characters move about the stage. In several scenes an actor's body is better lit than their head, which is jarring to see and pulls focus from the play.
Despite an indefinable lack in the overall production that leaves something to be desired, The Cover of Life at ICT Mainstage is a very good production. The actors all turn in fantastic performances, breathing life into their characters and making the audience care for them. They deserve the support of adoring audiences and should be seen.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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