One curiously powerful attribute of live theatre in respect to any of the other performance-based media is its astounding capacity for the creation of entire extemporaneous worlds in real space and time using nothing but the human imagination. On an empty stage, an actor can make three motions with a raised fist paired with three simultaneous stomps, and in a fraction of a second a full door exists where before there was only air. Everyone knows that the door is not physically extant, yet it does not need to be; it has instantly become a real, permanent and immovable object in a world whose dimensions and rules are an ongoing collaboration between actor and audience.
10 Years / 7 Stories is a ten-year anniversary revue of Louisville-based company Looking for Lilith’s original work exploring the historical lives and challenges of women, and it does its medium justice by harnessing this uniquely theatrical strength in the presentation of segments from seven different plays. Using several basic furniture items and some simple but effective props and costume choices, the actors are able to clearly evoke everything from an early-1900s Kentucky log cabin to a 1960s women’s college dormitory to a contemporary Guatemalan home. And while the specificity of the actors alone is enough to distinguish between each separate world, their work is creatively supplemented by a series of background slide projections that present historical information, offer context on the plays from which scenes were excerpted, and sometimes even participate in the action of the scene.
However, while the slides are a useful transition tool and serve the production well overall, it must be noted that a few are difficult to read and distract from the actors’ work. This is not a major concern, but nonetheless, slight tweaking to several moments in the staging and increased text contrast on a handful of the slides could easily make each projection visible and allow them to serve as a more seamless contribution to the storytelling.
Other distractions are equally minor but still merit mention. They include a number of stumbled-over lines (hopefully a one-time product of opening-night jitters), several instances of awkward staging, and acting that did not always reflect the physical realities of the characters, even while the cast’s storytelling capability and emotional connection to the material remained strong. For example, one character from the early 1900s should have had noticeably different posture and mannerisms than a contemporary American character in another scene; but the actress who played both showed little physical change between the two, even while her more internal distinctions were quite clear. I do not mean to single out this actress in particular; however, this is only one example of a technical issue that occasionally affected each of the performers – save one.
Although 10 Years / 7 Stories is an ensemble show, company founder Shannon Woolley Allison’s work is worthy of individual praise. Not only does she display consistent specificity and emotional connectedness throughout her performance, but her acting was refreshingly grounded. There is little in theatre that irks me more than watching a good actor who knows how good he or she is; Woolley is talented enough to fall into this trap, but instead exemplifies the delicate combination of leadership and humility needed to truly carry a show. She is the highlight of each of her scenes, yet in a way that serves the story – always contributing to her cast mates, never stealing the spotlight.
This same collaborative spirit can be felt in the excellent quality of Looking for Lilith’s writing; the company’s entirely original plays are not written by a single playwright, but devised through group playwriting exercises. I was particularly impressed by how often the material manages to create moments that are poignant without being precious, organically evoking certain feelings without hitting anything too squarely on the head. One such moment takes place in the getting-to-know-each-other exchange between two new roommates in a 1960s college dorm, where one freshman shares with the other that her brother is serving in Vietnam, then follows the information with a nervous addendum: “My parents are really proud.” This one simple sentence in its hesitant, quiet delivery spoke volumes about that time period and the country’s deep social division over the Vietnam War.
Looking for Lilith’s ongoing commitment to collaboration can also be found in their community outreach play Choices, in which teens and middle-schoolers have the opportunity to directly participate in the play as it is performed, creating a unique storyline at each performance that allows young audience members to fully explore various choices and consequences in regards to cyber bullying.
On the whole, 10 Years / 7 Stories is a highly enjoyable work of which the company should be proud. Its simple production value allows it to stay true to the main imaginative strength of theatre. Its ensemble cast displays a spirit of collaboration that is refreshing, and every actress does admirable work portraying a smattering of characters (and mastering their dialects). The performance manages to find some truly memorable moments in a broad span of material that never once drags. I definitely recommend it to anyone in the market for an affordable ticket that will make you laugh, cry, and think.
10 Years / 7 Stories
May 31, June 2, 7, 9 at 7:30 p.m. and June 10 at 2:00 p.m. Ticket prices $15, $10 students/seniors.
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