Jeremy Sapp and Lauren Maxwell in 27 Wagons of Cotton.
Photo – Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company.
American One Acts: Cocaine, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, Hello Out There
Directed by J. Barrett Cooper and Jennifer Pennington
Review by Rachel White
Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Rachel White. All rights reserved.
Savage Rose departs somewhat from its regular lineup of full-length classics to bring us an evening of three intimate American One Acts, each taking place in the early- to mid-twentieth century and each dealing with themes of poverty, desperation, and brutality. I found the evening uplifting in spite of the sad nature of the works because the writing is so strong and the acting so filled with energy and humor
The first is called Cocaine, the story of two down-and-out lovers who have run out of money and, as we soon realize, cocaine. They live in a crummy flat in New York City. Joe (Jon Patrick O’Brian) is an ex-fighter, and Nora (Karina Strange) is a prostitute who hasn’t made a cent all day. The scenery and direction in this piece are so simply done and spare, the dialogue so realistic, and the acting so private that it is easy to imagine that you are alone in the room with the couple.  Imagine what it’s like to be alone with someone in a dark room late at night with the train rolling by. There is a single bed, and a night stand, and a single window. Karina Strange is powerful as the exhausted Nora; she never plays her without hope, and that makes her despair at the end that much more potent. Strange works well with O’Brian, and their relationship is as sweet as it is disturbing. Director J. Barrett Cooper holds back just enough so that the deeply emotional moments hit very hard.
The second piece is 27 Wagons Full of Cotton by Tennessee Williams, directed by Jennifer Pennington. Brian Hinds plays a cotton ginner, Jake, who has fallen on hard times since they’ve built a plantation nearby. The plantation has then mysteriously burnt down. Silva (Jeremy Sapp) is a superintendent at the plantation. Jeremy Sapp and Brian Hinds are unsettling as two men of different stations in life who take what they want regardless of the cost to others around them. They create monsters with these characters; but they are human monsters, and that makes them scarier. Flora (Lauren Maxwell), Jake’s wife, plays it naïve and silly until things begin to come apart for her. Maxwell smoothly navigates those difficult emotional jumps.
The last play, Hello Out There, is slightly more surreal than the others and surrounds the love relationship between an imprisoned gambler (Jon Patrick O’Brian) and the kitchen maid of the jail cell (Alexandra Burch). It’s a poetic love story about loneliness and the longing for connection, and what comes between people. Both actors have strong physical presences, and you root for the two of them to unite even as you fear the consequences of that union. O’Brian’s acting keeps you on your toes; I could never quite trust him even when I empathized with him.
Because these works are older and lesser known, audience members might shy away, but they shouldn’t, because these plays are wonderful, moving, sometimes gentle, sometimes fiercely violent and performed and directed with sensitivity and skill.
Cocaine by Pendleton King
27 Wagons Full of Cotton by Tennessee Williams
Hello Out There by William Saroyan
June 10-June 15
Savage Rose Classical Theater Company
The MeX Theatre, The Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202