Tamara Dearing in In a Word. Photo courtesy The Bard’s Town.
In a Word
By Lauren Yee
Directed by Amos Driesbach
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
There may not be much under the Sun that we cannot claim to have seen in drama. Certainly the tragedy of losing a child has been thoroughly examined, if not exhausted; but it ultimately comes down to how you tell a story. Playwright Lauren Yee tells hers with precision and emotional impact, using nonlinear narrative and semantic legerdemain to make her characters and their circumstance feel new.
Fiona (Tamara Dearing) and Guy (Neil Douglas Dulac) are a couple struggling with turmoil and disruption in their relationship. The exact reason why is slowly revealed to be the unsolved disappearance of their young son, Tristan. Ben Park portrays him, as well as several other characters.
Amos Driesbach’s direction doesn’t quite keep the tension where the script demands, especially in the first act, but he elicits performances of great sensitivity. The fact that Driesbach is primarily a film director caused me to ponder the parallel in the quiet, low-key quality of much of the acting: at certain moments, it becomes the type of hushed delivery that’s all that is required for a close-up, the raw emotion palpable from the intimate stage of The Bard’s Town.
Not that there isn’t some heat, especially from Mr. Park, who is given the task of playing a number of characters and doesn’t waste the opportunity to deliver a bravura performance. He displays an agile ability to switch gears and quickly fill in the color and details of each character with efficiency.
Mr. Dulac and Ms. Dearing are given a different task: the slow, careful investigation of trauma and grief dividing two people. Guy wants to move on and is frustrated by Fiona’s desperation, and Dulac underplays the emotion beautifully. Dearing is similarly understated in giving Fiona a fragile, haunted quality. It is well-observed work done with skill.
Language is crucial in Yee’s play, and she uses semantics to peel back the layers of meaning and intention, uncovering clues in what is essentially a mystery. The repetition of dialogue focuses on the relationship of key words: something and nothing, justice and just us, or the connotation of loss and emptiness when Fiona utters the word “gone” with despair. Words are important in any play, but the playwright’s ability to position specific words for this degree of insight makes In a Word stand apart.
In a Word carries a weighty emotional burden, and the tone in this production at times veers perilously close to the lugubrious. Yet, finally, Driesbach is able to maintain the tightrope balance required to bring the story home, so that the end feels emotionally satisfying.
In a Word
May 12-15, 19-22, 2016 (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.