Playwright Samuel D. Hunter
A Permanent Image
By Samuel D. Hunter
Directed by Nick Hulstine
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
There is a bit of a trend in the choices made by The Bard’s Town of what plays to produce. Doug Schutte seems to favor tightly written family dramas with 3-5 characters. In selecting A Permanent Image they have come a cropper, presenting us with a play that begins on familiar ground but has the guts to take us to an unexpected place. The play is by Samuel D. Hunter, whose A Bright New Boise was such a success for this company a few seasons back.
Bo (Rhett Williams) and Ally (Megan Adair) have come home for the funeral of their father, Martin (Jon Huffman, seen in videos recorded before his death). They are alarmed to find that their mother, Carol (Susan McNeese Lynch), has painted the inside of the house in a slapdash manner with white paint. The sloppy brushwork covers the furniture, paintings – even magazines left on tables. Carol is, to say the least, exercising her grief in somewhat lunatic fashion.
Both siblings have kept their distance from mom and dad, Bo working as a photojournalist on the other side of the world, and Ally rarely visiting even though she lives three hours away. Ally also is a lesbian who has a 2-year old child with her partner, but Carol hasn’t seen her only grandchild since he was a newborn. Suddenly being thrust together into the small house and being confronted with Carol’s odd behavior, tensions boil over immediately and much of the interaction between the characters consists of loud arguments.
All of which sounds like a hundred other plays. The dysfunction of the American family in contemporary society is a well-worn theme, and this iteration starts off feeling familiar, but fortunately Hunter’s dialogue is lean, economical, incisive and brutally funny. The playwright also has something on his mind here beyond yet another well-crafted excoriation of the family dynamic. To discuss any more of this plot, however, would be to spoil that discovery. Suffice it to say that all three characters are on a journey to the play’s sober but provocative final moments, even if they arrive there via slightly different paths.
Director Nick Hulstine guides his cast through rich, highly nuanced performances that beautifully negotiate the roller-coaster emotional transitions the text demands. Jon Huffman may not physically be onstage, but his presence is certainly meaningful from the oversize projections that represent Martin’s video legacy to his children. Susan McNeese Lynch does some of her best work here, dropping vanity by releasing the glamour that always seems an integral aspect of most of her previous work. Her Carol is a frumpy, devil-may-care woman who has embraced a truth that we can only guess at during the first act. Megan Adair seems to inhabit Ally so completely that she has undergone a subtle physical transformation, her slender frame grounded with steel turning into jelly as she reveals the underlying vulnerability of her character. Rhett Willman, a newcomer to Louisville, invests Bo with a particular degree of self-righteous morality that is essential in the audience’s initial engagement with the story. These actors feel so right on the money in these roles, there is never a false moment.
The first act is raucous and funny, a tone that continues after intermission, but Hunter also hones in on an ending that has deep emotional resonance, drawing its power from an avoidance of melodramatic convention, instead relying on the identification that the play has carefully built between characters and audience. It is an ending that will stay with you long after you have left the theatre.
A Permanent Image
February 19-March 5 (7:30 PM)
Advanced Tickets $16 ($12 for students and $14 for 65+ seniors)
At the door: $18/16/14
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on ARTxFM/WXOX-LP, 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.