This Aquarius Fall production is a heavy hitting award winning play by Carey Crim. It opened in a world premier less than a year ago at The Purple Rose Theatre in Michigan and won the Jane Chambers Feminist Playwriting award in 2017. It pushes back against old stereotypes of the family composition, addresses sexual consent, looks at alcoholism, calls the 12 step program into question, touches on postpartum depression, briefly comments on right to life, observes that an apology doesn’t mean the same thing as accountability and so on. The story itself is about a young girl who wants to meet her biological father. Her mother claims he was a one night stand and she can’t remember his name. This all unravels of course as secrets tend to do over the years.
To be successful this production needs a heavily realistic presentation that emphasizes the story and soft pedals the issues. The issues speak for themselves. The play should focus on the journey of the characters and let the social concerns play out in the subconscious of the audience in the days that follow the production. Director, Ron Ulrich, seems to have conceived this current production in exactly the opposite manner. What ensues is a highly unrealistic presentation of an intimate family issue which is constantly struggling to be heard over the landmine placement of hot social themes. The result is a lot of emotional dynamic and personal feelings about these themes, but no real connection with the actual characters.
In Ulrich’s defense, the script itself takes some plausible turns that seem just too pat to believe. For example, Nadine Walker, played by Nehassalu deGannes, saves partner Allison Davis, played by Raquel Duffy, and her young child one night when they’ve reached their “rock bottom” and they then become life partners. It’s all a little too emotionally tidy to be real. Ulrich echoes this with an empty blocking style that gives no indication of the character’s relationships with their space. Their daughter’s boyfriend, Rob Wilson, played by Wilex Ly sleeps over for the first time and is sent to the kitchen and instructed to get the muffins out of the bread box. He then opens exactly the right cupboard and gets out exactly the right size dishes to serve them on. Small empty choreography like this eats away at the authenticity of characters and their story.
Set designer, Brian Dudkiewicz, provides a beautiful set that propels the entire home forward in a sort of microscope effect. We see what seems like an ordinary home but are visually invited to take a closer look as it zooms nearer to us for inspection. Despite this incitement however, the set dressing and the blocking, still somehow send a counterfeit message. The picture is simply too tidy to be real. A little disarray in the living space would have gone a long way. Further, people have relationships with their furniture. When they are upset or they want to have a serious conversation, they sit in certain places. They lean against certain items. They very rarely stand around in the open spaces of their homes to have emotional exchanges. Ulrich would have done well to think of this production as a modern “kitchen-sink drama”. Their lives need to be as real as possible in order for us to feel the real heartbreak of their experience.
Carey Crim wrote a play about the tragedy of a young girl discovering her less than adequate biological father: a secret her mother had held for years. Whispering in the background were timely modern concerns supporting this essential story. In production, it took an unexpected turn with the underscore becoming the focus. It’s still an interesting, emotional and pivotal piece of work but from a less personalized angle which I don’t imagine was the playwright’s intention. V
NEVER NOT ONCE