Jay Marie Padilla, Jennifer Riddle & Ben Unwin in The Carrie Variations.
Photo-The Alley Theater
The Carrie Variations
By Vin Morreale Jr.
Directed by Martin French
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
The Carrie Variations was a fascinating evening of theatre. It is essentially three short plays that tell different stories using versions of the same three characters, but with each scenario changing in tone and intention in unexpected ways.
The first and second acts follow similar structures and even echo key lines of dialogue, playing with genre expectations of film noir and thriller tropes in examining the shifting relationship of power and control between Carrie (Jay Marie Padilla) and her visitor Danielle (Jennifer Riddle). I hate synopsis, especially when the effectiveness of the material depends on defying expectations, but suffice it to say that surveillance, large cash payment for morally questionable actions, and things never being quite what they seem, are a part of these scenes. And a man named David (Ben Unwin) arrives at mid-point each time to increase the sense of dread and help provide nicely judged twists.
The third act is schematically similar but tonally a departure, taking a lighter touch and wrapping things up on a somewhat brighter, albeit equally quirky note. Again, it strikes me as a disservice to go into any detail about scenario.
Director Martin French’s staging is straightforward and uncluttered, with a focus on performance that mostly pays worthwhile dividends. The play provides a showcase for the two women, and Jay Marie Padilla, who I have only seen in smaller, supporting roles, seems to relish her opportunity to run with the ball. Jennifer Riddle is a new face to me, but she also seems to be enjoying herself. There is a contrast in the physicality of the two: Ms. Padilla diminutive, with dark skin and long dark hair, Ms. Riddle tall and pale-skinned, with shorter, bright red wavy hair, that underscores the differences in their characters. Carrie is a tightly wound individual in each scene, either controlling and manipulative or highly neurotic, while Danielle is a looser, more emotionally risky presence, unafraid to express herself in aggressive terms. The script seems limiting at first, but eventually affords each actor a splendid range of opportunity.
This also holds true for Ben Unwin’s work as David, except that he is even more restricted until the final act, where he is required to execute a manic catalog of eccentricity and actor’s ego that will delight any experienced theatregoer. It illustrates the risk of scenery chewing inherent in the material, and all three brush right up against that idea, with Mr. Unwin perhaps tipping just over the line…or maybe not. He was very funny in these moments. There is a certain shaggy, rough-around-the-edges quality about this production that is engaging instead of off-putting. The piece never seems over-worked, but instead of imagining the benefit of more rehearsal, it lends a sense of spontaneity and risky energy that works.
It would be tempting to think any one of the three might stand alone as a short play, but I think they inform each other enough that separating them would rob the material of depth and virtuosity. Playwright Morreale is exploring shades of identity and the fluidity of experience within genre pastiches in The Carrie Variations, and it makes this one of the better productions from The Alley Theatre in recent memory. Amid all of the funky experimentation and well-received popular culture parodies, this is a nice foray into more serious fare.
The Carrie Variations
March 12 – 28, 2015
The Alley Theater
633 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
[box_light]Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at the Louisville Visual Art Association 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.[/box_light]