Till We Have Faces
Presented by People's Branch Theatre
Through June 19 at Darkhorse Theater
In the past two months, Nashville has been a hotbed of original plays and new stage adaptations of preexisting works: The Actors Bridge Ensemble reworking of Euripides' Trojan Women, BroadAxe Theatre's Palisades, Mockingbird Theatre's Ghostlight and Nashville Theatre Works' Dream Book. Now People's Branch Theatre is staging a new script based on C.S. Lewis' novel Till We Have Faces, playing at the Darkhorse Theater through Saturday.
To discuss this production is to trumpet the talents of Holly Allen, who has emerged as one of Nashville's finest actors. Allen is not completely alone onstage, but this play's success rests solely on her ability to breathe constant life into the elegant, poetic speeches that constitute the bulk of Matt Chiorini and Ross Brooks' compressed retelling of Lewis' work of mythic fiction. For all the clarity that Allen strives to projectand does with much luminescencethe play remains a stiff intellectual challenge, filled with provocative messages about the individual's relationship with God; the nature of love, friendship and jealousy; the place of self in the universe; and, perhaps most importantly, the value of humility in service of a higher power.
As Queen Orual, ruler of ancient Glom, Allen narrates the tale of her kingdom and family, with especial focus on her much beloved sister, Psyche, who serves as the catalyst for Orual's angst-driven, at times harrowing exploration of her own existential plight. Allen traverses across the breadth of emotional territory in her reading and almost single-handedly drives home the play's contemplative message. Her co-star is Keiana Richard, who, as Psyche, brings a sensual presence to her role; she struggles to match Allen's eloquence, but otherwise delivers a performance serviceable to the play's needs. Nine other uncredited actors perform in silhouette behind primitive backdrops, a terrific theatrical device that provides an effective framework for the fore-action and adds further storytelling power.
The direction by Denice Hicks is aesthetically aware and consistent throughout, save for the evening's final tableau, which telegraphs its summary statement with a sentimentality that qualifies arguably as overkill. Overall, this is a surprisingly fine piece of theater, which manages to reach beyond its abstract pitfalls to achieve triumphant truth.
Still another original work debuted at the Donelson Senior Center for the Arts last weekend. Rachel, with book and lyrics by Bernice Lee and music by Lou Green, tells the fairly well-known local story of Rachel Donelson Robards Jackson, wife of President Andrew Jackson, who endured scandal and the scorn of narrow-minded society folks, then died before she could see her husband elected the nation's chief executive. It's too bad the play's authors couldn't take advantage of the opportunity to bring this workable idea to life. The action meanders slowly, and the dialogue is usually pitched in the stilted tones of formal parlor drama. As for the music, it's a strange blend of faux Gershwin folk opera and forgettable salon "art" music. Mark Lynn's direction is haphazard, though he manages to coax some interesting performances out of supporting players Jennifer Weaver, Barbara Arrowsmith, Amy Holt and Julia Sessions. Ann Street-Kavanagh plays the title role with sincerity but little emotional impact. On a positive technical note, director Lynn designed some nice period costumes, and the set by Ling Tee Hailey effectively conjures the spirit of the early 19th century postcolonial drawing room.
Rachel, produced in cooperation with Southern Writers' Theater, continues through June 20.
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AGGGHHHH that last picture!