Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell
September 14, 2023 Issue
A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.
PART 5A: TRIANGLE THEATER REVIEW BY KURT BENRUD
CPF's Coming Back for Me Offers Empathy,
Seasoned with a Measure of Comedy
Amy da Luz's Coming Back for Me stars (from left) Melanie Simmons as Dorothy Meadows, Jason
Christ as her husband Matthew, and Xenon Winslow as her son Leo (photo by Stephanie Turner)
The Cary Playwrights' Forum will present Coming Back for Me MMM (photo by MMM)
Cutting to the chase: Coming Back for Me is well written, well directed, and well-acted -- altogether excellent. It would truly be a shame to miss this production!
One needn't know much about Ancient Greek traditions to be aware of the existence of The Muses -- nine sister-goddesses who were the source of creative inspiration for us mere mortals. Are they real? If so, how do they contact us? And how would the life of an ordinary "beige" mortal be affected by surrendering to the urge to create?
Playwright Amy da Luz and director Michael Sean Parker team up to offer Coming Back for Me (produced by Cary Playwrights' Forum) in which we are invited to be flies on the wall as Dorothy ("a middle-aged woman, mother, spouse, and dead-end cubicle worker") deals with this urge and with the chaos that ensues in her family's lives.
There are hour cuts, layoffs, and demotions. There are bills to pay. There are neglected obligations at home and at work. And there is one serious altercation (not road rage but similar) that occurs offstage "between the acts." (Be sure to keep that in mind as you return from intermission.) And do we need to worry about his (or the family's) safety when Dorothy's husband becomes desperate enough to borrow money from "a friend of a friend"?
Akili Holder-Cozart (left) and Joanna Herath star as Shasta and Arlene (photo by Stephanie Turner)
Melanie Simmons shines as Dorothy Meadows. She finds a plethora of nuances as her character meets major and minor crossroads in her daily life. What will she lose as the result of her decisions? How tragic will her life become? Can she keep the comforts and security that come with the ordinary, "beige" world? And can she, at the same time, experience the fulfillment that she can only achieve through pursuing her art?
At key moments, Simmons is positively mesmerizing, making it impossible not to empathize. (I confess that I felt chills on more than a few occasions.)
Xenon Winslow thoroughly nails the part of Leo (Dorothy's middle-school-age son). Teenagers have enough angst confronting them without being ambushed by the discovery that their mother is a "contemporary artist" who creates work that is shockingly avant garde. Often comic, frequently touching, and sometimes both, Winslow's performance alone is worth the price of admission. Indeed, on Friday night, Winslow's performance as a key scene ended prompted a set-change round of applause.
As Dorothy's husband Matthew, Jason Christ deftly portrays a blue-collar, hard-working family man who finds himself having to deal with "the unknown" and the unexpected. A key line: Dorothy tells him "Just because you don't understand doesn't mean it doesn't make sense." If only he could have understood that!
Joanna Vickery Herath's Arlene plows forward at 100 mph, very happy and quite comfortable as an "ordinary mortal," dealing with the realities of the work-a-day world that she shares with Dorothy. Metaphorically, I would have to say that Herath succeeds in creating a dynamic character who nonetheless prefers the world of "beige." I was impressed by the comic sequence in which Arlene is totally oblivious as Dorothy re-decorates their shared office. And I was equally impressed by Arlene's reaction(s) to the change once she had noticed.
Akili Holder-Cozart plays Shasta (Dorothy's effervescent co-worker). There is nothing "beige" about her. Also an artist, but by no means as successful. She has a degree in art, but she has not had the overwhelming visits by the muses. (Don't be surprised if you find yourself hoping that she does). Holder-Cozart is a dynamic presence onstage; her choices and her timing emphasize Shasta's unpredictability.
Pardon me while I make 2023's understatement-of-the-year: There is an interesting dynamic between Arlene and Shasta and another between Leo and Shasta.
Winslow, Herath, and Holder-Cozart provide the right measure of comedy for a work that might otherwise be overwhelmingly dark.
William Kallan rounds out the cast as "Older Leo" who appears in the final scene, 20 years in the future. The role might be comparatively "small," but Kallan is no "small actor." He imbues the character with quite a range of feelings in this single scene.
The Cary Playwrights' Forum's production of Coming Back for Me stars William Kalland
as the Older Leo and Joanna Herath as Arlene (photo by Stephanie Turner)
Director Michael Parker, who doubles as set designer, creates the necessary office, studio, alley, and gallery scenes. There are at least 15 set changes between scenes, and stage manager Yamila Monge's crew exercises them with aplomb. Some of the changes are quite intricate, and therefore time-consuming, but sound designer Juan Isler covers them nicely with music that transitions the "feel" of the previous into the "feel" of the ensuing scene.
In addition to creating the necessary focus-and-wash for the action of the "ordinary" world, lighting designer Erin Bell has included some eerie effects to signify the presence of The Muses.
Melanie Simmons (left) and Akili Holder-Cozart star as Dorothy and Shasta (photo by Christian O'Neal)
Using works by actual local artists to "play the part" of Dorothy's creations. (Be aware, the Cary Playwrights' Forum is having an online auction of them, with 100% of the money going to the artists. Contact producer Christian O'Neal for any questions: email@example.com.) The staging of the "double-time" scene at the end. The choice of beverage for Holder-Cozart's character. The mention (and eventual presence) of a string of pearls. Using a projector to "mirror" the text messages to a screen on the back wall of the set. Hats off to properties and projections designer Mikki Marvel. (However, the Department of Picky-Picky thinks that the font needs to be larger.)
The Bottom Line:
I repeat: Coming Back for Me is excellently well written, well directed, and well-acted. There are three more chances to catch this show at the Mettlesome Theater (800 Taylor St., Suite #9-156, Durham, NC 27701): 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15th, and Saturday, Sept. 16th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17th.
It would truly be a shame to miss this production!
Amy da Luz's COMING BACK FOR ME (In Person at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15-17), directed by Michael Sean Parker and starring Akili Holder-Cozart as Dorothy's co-worker Shasta, Jason Christ as Dorothy's husband Matthew, Joanna Vickery Herath as Dorothy's supervisor Arlene, Melanie Simmons as Dorothy Meadows, William Kallan as Dorothy's son Older Leo, and Xenon Winslow as Dorothy's son Leo (Cary Playwrights' Forum at Mettlesome Theater in Durham). PRESENTER: https://www.caryplaywrightsforum.org/, https://www.facebook.com/CaryPlaywrights, https://www.instagram.com/caryplaywrightsforum/, https://twitter.com/CaryPlaywrights, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDM991taImNmNUDOsrbJXuA. 2023-24 SEASON: https://www.caryplaywrightsforum.org/?page_id=1899. VENUE: https://thisismettlesome.com/, http://www.facebook.com/thisismettlesome, http://instagram.com/hellomettlesome, and https://twitter.com/hellomettlesome. DIRECTIONS: https://thisismettlesome.com/location. TICKETS: $24, plus tax. Click VENUE: here to buy tickets. INFORMATION: firstname.lastname@example.org. PLEASE DONATE TO: Cary Playwrights' Forum.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights' Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with North Carolina Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review.
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