Tamara Dearing, Frank Morris, Carol Dines, Jane Mattingly and Andy Epstein in Taj Whitesell’s Exposure. Photo by Shaun Kenney.
By Taj Whitesell
Directed by Jane B. Jones
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
On the final evening of the opening weekend of the First Annual Derby City Playwrights New Play Festival, the two plays premiering together, Taj Whitesell’s Exposure and Brian Walker’s High Tide, share themes and story elements that made for a good double bill, even while displaying considerable contrast in the details. Although each of the plays stands on its own terms, it is interesting to find such relationships among the group.
Exposure stands as easily the most traditional, even old-fashioned, story in this festival. After the death of Edith, a woman who lived in an apartment attached to their home, a family copes with her affairs. She apparently had no next of kin and no will, so the contents of the apartment may soon belong to the property owner. Except that, as they begin to clean out the space, the teenage daughter, Phoebe (Jane Mattingly), who has already begun using the apartment to meet up with new boyfriend, Danny (Patrick Murphy), encounters Edith’s ghost.
Edith was something of recluse, but an avid photographer, and a cache of old prints discovered in a locked trunk leads to opportunity and an investigation into the past. Phoebe’s father, Matthew, (Frank Morris) is on edge about money and is overanxious to clear out the apartment to make way for a new tenant, and argues against her mother, Cecilia (Tamara Dearing) taking a job because he fears he will look inadequate in the eyes of her wealthy father, Darryl, (Andy Epstein).
One reason Exposure seems so old-fashioned is that such attitudes seem a bit antiquated in today’s world of two-income households, but it is also because of Whitesell’s highly conventional narrative structure, which is free of any post-modern irony or self-awareness. The first act ends with a solid plot reveal that hardly surprises, and almost all story threads are neatly tied up by play’s end.
Yet, we should not be afraid of sturdy storytelling, and Whitesell’s theme of a family forced to face its dysfunctionality is an oft-told tale that bears repeating. If the playwright hews to tradition, she does it with confidence and craft. I did find the dubious premise that Edith’s photographs would yield such a financial windfall a bit thin, but the idea that Matthew would contrive to benefit from them was slightly provocative.
Carol Dines brings a tart, embittered wisdom to Edith, while Jane Mattingly nicely captures the balance of youthful naiveté and desire for justice of Phoebe. Frank Morris and Tamara Dearing make more sense of Matthew and Ceclia’s aesthetically mid-twentieth century marriage than one might expect; a model of good casting and sound acting. Andy Epstein manages to keep Darryl’s pomposity in check with a resigned humanity, and Patrick Murphy does well by Danny in an unassuming but charming performance. Frank Whitaker brings earnest and unforced feeling to Frederick, a character whose importance is best left undiscovered here.
In truth, this production seemed the most in need of a little bit more rehearsal, but it holds up within the festival and carries good work by a game cast.
July 10 @ 9:30pm
July 16 @ 5:30pm
July 21 @ 7:30pm
Part of the First Annual Derby City Playwrights Festival
Advanced Tickets: $18 / At the door: $20
Derby City Playwrights
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 WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, 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.