Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Theater review: Runway Theatre plays Talking Pictures as a sincere drama with a dash of comedy
A spoonful of funny can ... sometimes seem uncomfortable.
GRAPEVINE Retreating into an era gone by, Talking Pictures gives us a glimpse into a slower time, but one full of deep relationships, heartwarming and heart wrenching events, and evenings on the front porch. Set in rural Texas in 1929, the play follows the lives of Myra, a divorced woman trying to raise her son, Pete, and the people whose lives intertwine. Myra plays piano at the local theater which is moving towards the transition to "talkies." She and her son live in a room rented from the Jacksons who are also on unstable ground, in fear of Mr. Jackson being "bumped" from his job as an engineer for the railroad. Through the course of a few days in their lives, we are witness to the relationships between Myra, the Jacksons, and Myra's suitor, Willis.
The script by Horton Foote is a tricky one to tackle. It purposefully portrays life in 1929 as it was. In comparison to the hurried times we live in today, the action seems slow and belabored. Long dialogues between Myra and Willis on the front porch correctly reflect the slower lifestyle before the rush of technology. At times, the pacing of this show seemed even slower than necessary and the play was most interesting during the second half as the action picked up.
Occasionally, as I found myself really connecting with the characters and the story, comedy was injected in a way that made me uncomfortable.
The set, designed by Jeremy Ferman, gave the audience a glimpse into the Jackson home. There are four primary areas - the living room, Myra and Pete's room, the porch, and the yard. The décor inside the house is minimal which is appropriate given the financial status of its occupants and the traditions of a simpler time. Most of the action inside the house takes place in the living room, with Katie Bell and Vesta Jackson exchanging wonderful and wistful dialogue. The porch is complete with rocking chairs and is surrounded by a yard made of real sod and box elders, along with benches where visitors sit and on which Katie Bell practices the balance beam. The set itself gives the audience its first welcome into the lives of the characters in the play and Ferman's design does an outstanding job of including the audience in the action.
Costumes by Amber Courreges were another feature that was given the attention necessary to accurately depict the period. Katie Bell and Vesta wore cotton dresses with Mary Jane shoes and ankle socks. Myra wore stylish dresses in gingham and prints. The men often wore slacks with suspenders and cotton shirts, rolled to their elbows. The costuming along with the set made for a believable visit into the late 20's.
Sound design by Kirk Holland adequately complemented the action without becoming overbearing. The sound of crickets, peppered throughout the outdoor scenes, was at a level loud enough to hear without becoming the focus. This, along with other aspects of the play, brought the audience once again into the summer of 1929, sitting on the porch, quietly fanning through conversations between neighbors.
Lauren Massing, as Katie Bell, was exceptionally entertaining. As she delivered her lines, she did so with finesse. Her timing of comedic lines was impeccable. The exchanges with big sister Vesta were spot on, reminding me of evenings in my own childhood with my older sisters. Massing was a wonderful casting choice, and the way she depicted the youngest member of the Jackson family was natural and a highlight of the play.
Older sister Vesta was played by Catherine Harrington. Harrington's Vesta came across as somewhat introverted and often frustrated with her younger sister's questions. Her performance was very believable.
Myra's son Pete was played by Travis Nolen. Nolen portrayed the troubled youth in a way that suggested the inner turmoil brewing inside. From his mannerisms to his facial expressions, Nolen could easily have portrayed his character without lines. When he delivers lines, they were very smooth. There were a couple of times that wardrobe malfunctions or other unexpected events happened and Nolen incorporated them neatly into his performance, forcing them to add to the action rather than detract. This revealed an experience beyond what would be expected for his age.
The youth in this production made the play worth seeing. Their performances were professionally experienced and smooth. The play, however, was centered around adult characters as well and many of those performances were also well done.
Myra, as the principal female character in the play, necessitates a woman who has experienced many difficulties yet has maintained a positive nature. In this role, Lindsay Hayward shone. Her delivery betrayed an inner fighter beneath a quiet exterior, especially as she vented her frustrations to a listening Willis. Even when she was not in the main part of a scene, Hayward continued developing her character through her actions inside her room as the conversation outside continued. Hayward delivered the perfect mix of vulnerable single mother and strong, independent woman.
Kirk Holland, as Willis, was also very effective in his role. Through his expertise, Holland brought warmth to this character that is clearly in love with Myra, but was not overbearing. Holland easily demonstrated Willis' patience with Myra through her hesitation.
Ryan Davila injected comedy into the play without becoming a caricature. His portrayal of Estaquio, the son of a Baptist preacher, was well-timed and not overdone. David Willie, playing Mr. Jackson, was believable and appropriately hurried. Mrs. Jackson's moments on the front porch were memorable, through the efforts of Tanya Lippe.
Runway Theatre delivers Talking Pictures as a dramatic story with a dash of comedic seasoning sprinkled throughout. Director Misty Baptiste has brought together a believable cast that works well together to remind us of a time many have never experienced.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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