Friday, September 9, 2011

AUM: Unseen

Hard on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Theatre AUM is producing the World Premier of Unseen by the university's Provost, Jeffery Scott Elwell. The play recounts the devastating effects of the death of one Roy Gibbons [Neil David Seibel] on his wife, sister, and young of many a story that likely unfolded in thousands of households here and abroad.

Montgomery is hosting several tributes and observations memorializing the 9/11 victims, and this study of its impact on an ordinary family caught up in bureaucratic insensitivity and psychological therapy is effective in its treatment of events and issues that continue to haunt us.

At its opening, a powerful slide-show of the construction of the World Trade Center Towers culminating in photos of the September 11th attacks had the audience in rapt attention; at its end, Mike Winkelman's set was revealed: an arrangement of platforms depicting the play's various locations placed amidst the grey-ash rubble with iconic skeletal frames at the rear...and the audience response was a visceral intake of breath.

Director Val Winkelman handles Elwell's episodic structure by finessing the breaks between scenes with La'Brandon Tyre's effective sound scoring. -- With hardly a sustained scene in it, the cinematic storytelling relies on moments that connect us to the lives and conflicts of its individual characters.

Young Roy "Junior" Gibbons [AUM freshman Nik Smith] "sees" his father at a memorial service, despite the fact that Roy Senior's body has not yet been found after the collapse of the building where he worked. Convinced that his father is still alive [though no one else can see him] Junior's insistence concerns his mother Helen [Sarah Worley] and sister-in-law Susan [Alicia Fry], beginning a series of sessions with a psychiatrist [Michael Krek] for both the boy and later his mother.

Roy and Junior each need one another, and their lives are unsettled. Roy can not rest nor completely die while someone believes he lives, and his son relies so heavily on his father's presence that he can not accept his death.

Compounding the immediate issue of grieving is the bureaucratic handling of insurance claims by an Investigator [Daniel Brown], who, though not completely lacking in compassion when he hears of Junior's absolute conviction of his father being alive, delays the insurance process till Roy's death can be verified.

Elwell's script is a work in progress that evokes the time and various understandable human responses & reactions to the catastrophic events of 9/11. Lacking some concrete details of the lives and relationships among its characters, we are given a touching picture that could draw us in more with fleshing out these elements and extending scenes to develop them.

The AUM ensemble actors are credible in their portrayals under Ms. Winkelman's tutelage, and there are some especially effective moments when hardly a word is spoken or needed.

Newcomer Nik Smith is particularly convincing as Junior, capturing many of a budding-teenager's vocal & physical behaviors. Ms. Worley's depiction of the distressed wife & mother shifts gears from concern to grief believably, though she often speaks very quickly and softly, rendering her words almost inaudible. Mr. Krek's psychiatrist mixes the script's gentle humor with a professional demeanor meant to soothe or at least not disturb his patients. And Mr. Seibel lends a comfort to his role that is an admirable lesson for the student actors.

Fitting so well into this week's commemorations, AUM's Unseen might also have a life of its own afterwards.