Photo by Harlan Taylor
Acts of God
By Mark Rigney
Directed by Sabrina Spalding
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Walden Theatre/Blue Apple Players students so often play older characters from other periods that when given the opportunity to play contemporaries – teenagers in modern American society, it cannot help but stand in contrast to the season as a whole. This has perhaps always been part of the point of the fall Slant Culture entry, to inject a bracing dose of new writing into the schedule. Mark Rigney’s play about teenagers in the aftermath of the 2005 tornado that struck Evansville, Indiana, easily fills the requirement
It is a true ensemble piece, using unified movement, chorus-like narration, and a fairly even division of focus among characters, with a well-chosen cast, all in good form. The essential theme that informs the title; how God is called into play to explain and/or comfort the victims of such a tragedy, cannot help but highlight two characters in greater relief; Amanda, who fervently embraces her faith to herself cope and also offer solace to others, and Kelsey, whose loss of close family members causes her to reject any god who would allow such senseless tragedy. Catherine Young is natural and credible as Amanda, and the script and the performance never lapse into cliché or dominate the action more than is necessary. Rigney does allow Kelsey only her heartbreak and trauma, limiting the character to one note, albeit an essential emotion, but Anne Shook plays it just right, I think, allowing stillness to be the foundation of the grave demeanor her pale, drawn countenance masks; trying in vain to conceal the depths of her anger and grief.
Rebecca Willenbrink was once again a solid and professional presence as an immigrant daughter expressing her sense of being the Other in the community, Field Oldham did well as the stalwart heartland athlete, with particularly nice work in his scenes with a charming and funny Ruthie Dworkin. Alex Amaya accurately essayed the prototypical Rock & Roll slacker, and it must be said that the playwright is certainly trafficking in stereotypes with many of these characters, and director Sabrina Spalding doesn’t shirk from the familiar in the foundation of the production. What she does do effectively is fashion her cast’s individual energy in and out of focus; one minute experiencing insightful character moments and the next joining in collective expression of angst, pain, grief, joy, reverie, etc. The range of emotions through the course of the show covers not only the trauma and recovery but also the touchstones of teenage life: friendship, betrayal, music, fashion, social life, sports; so that these kids are a representative cross-section of the world they have lost.
There is also recognition of the harsh realities of FEMA and the limitations of government subsidies that give insight into how previously industrious citizens find themselves counted among the homeless. Yet the play doesn’t become mired in politics, it simply observes its role in the larger picture.
For all of Ms. Spalding’s sensitivity to the nuance of performance, the lack of traditional narrative structure in Rigney’s play allows the pace and momentum to go a little soft in the middle; but the action builds to a powerful and highly visceral climax in which the ensemble invades the audience with raw vocal energy that was more than a little unsettling (appropriately so). The moment circled around a long monologue, delivered with fierce commitment by Zoe Peterson, that brought the collage of episodes into a satisfying conclusion that acknowledges the truth: that the recovery continues long after the spotlight has moved on.
Acts of God
November 13, 14, 17, 19, 21 @ 7:30pm
In repertory with The Fighting Frogs VS Victora Vanderbilt
November 12, 18, 20 & 7:30pm
November 14 & 21 @ 2:00pm
Walden Theatre / Blue Apple Players
The Nancy Niles Sexton Stage
1125 Payne Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40206
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.