Sloan Malone & Brian Hinds in Punts. Photo: Bill Brymer
By Sarah Page
Directed by Tony Prince
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Live theatre is back?!? At least for now. With the delta variant moving across the land, arts venues are cautiously open for business for the fully vaccinated and fully masked. It may not be ideal, but after what we have all been through, isn’t a simple face covering a small price to pay to return to these seats?
Determined to stay true to the ideals of live storytelling on a stage, The Liminal Playhouse sat out the last 18 months without turning to any of the digital means exercised by other companies. Now they pick up literally where they left off, with a U.S. premiere production of British playwright Sarah Page’s Punts that was in final rehearsal when we went into quarantine in March 2020.
The play investigates how the power dynamic of sex and money is much more prevalent than we allow. In England, a “punt” is a client for a prostitute – think “john” in American parlance, and the plot delivers one very clearly identified sex worker in Kitty (Sloan Malone), who is hired by Antonia (Teresa Willis) and Alastair (Brian Hinds) to deflower their developmentally disabled 25-year old son, Jack (Wes Yunker). The controversy of the premise is immediately alleviated by the matter-of-fact conversation between mother and son as she prepares the anxious Jack for the amorous encounter. Also on edge is Alastair when he greets Kitty. Page handles all of the very adult exchanges with straightforward language and keenly observed humor so that it never feels prurient or patronizing. But Kitty becomes a much more impactful presence in the family’s life than any of them ever bargained for, forcing uncomfortable questions about identity and how money and power play a defining role in their quiet domestic life.
I love the way that Page introduces the idea of identity transference without letting it become overly didactic. If Punts gets a bit messy in its machinations that’s just the way life is. Clean and tidy resolutions are not the norm and edifying results are always costly. Although there is satisfaction in the play’s ending, the blood and tears have not all been cleaned up.
Director Tony Prince managed to keep his cast from spring 2020 and they are well chosen for the task. Jack is the kind of role that fairly begs to be overplayed, and the anxiousness of a first sexual encounter is portrayed just broadly enough by Wes Yunker, but he also delineates the sweet, confident heart that emerges afterward. Page introduces Kitty as a bit cliche at first, the tough and forward hooker with a heart-of-gold, and Sloan Malone occupies that territory almost through sheer physical presence, but she is most effective in the tender scenes with Jack, and by illustrating the vulnerability of the character when, later, she comes under threat.
Teresa Willis and Brian Hinds are a match of contrasts, Antonia a manic bundle of nerves and uncertainty while Alastair is a calmer pillar of restraint and resignation. As written, both are tricky balancing acts. Willis must seem progressive and nurturing but also has to touch upon the uncomfortable aspect of this mother’s overprotective attachment to her son. And Hinds must explore the father’s commitment to the stability of his family against long-buried notions of regret about marrying so young. He also seems to have the surest moral center, and Hinds plays it without sanctimony.
Between opening night jitters and whatever curious energy an actor carries for a project that has been held in limbo for more than a year, it is no wonder that all four performances, as good as they are, seemed to push just a little too hard. It comes in varying degrees, but what I wish for this impressive cast is for them to settle down just a tad.
There are also attempts at English dialects that are here on shaky ground. All four actors had moments when they seemed to lose the accent entirely and none ever had a firm footing. It was only a little distracting early on, and I had stopped paying attention before too long because they otherwise acquitted themselves admirably. Hinds, Malone, Willis, and Yunker have built a solid foundation for these characters, and director Prince has navigated a sure course. Now that they have launched, perhaps they will enjoy the journey a bit more.
Featuring Brian Hinds, Sloan Malone, Teresa Willis, & Wes Yunker
August 19 – 29, 2021
Please be fully vaccinated and wear your mask.
Tickets are available HERE.
The Liminal PlayhouseThe Henry Clay Theatre
604 S. 3rd Street,
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.