Thursday, March 30, 2017

ASF: "Dauphin Island"

First done in Montgomery as a reading in 2015's "Southern Writers Project", playwright Jeffry Chastang's Dauphin Island is being given its World Premier production on the Alabama Shakespeare Festival's Octagon stage. In an intermissionless 90-minutes, director Nancy Rominger and her two actors -- Cheri Lynne VandenHeuvel and Esau Pritchett [both veterans at ASF] -- involve audiences in the relationship that develops over a weekend between two unlikely souls.

Set in a remote rural landscape in Southern Alabama, a place where people could easily get lost or where they could escape the pressures of the outside world, the contrived meeting of Selwyn Tate [Mr. Pritchett]  and Kendra Evans [Ms. VandenHeuvel] when his car breaks down and he stumbles into her yard, then tracks the small and large events they share as the relationship changes from combative to a kind of detente to trust and a love that both understand will not be fulfilled.

Make no mistake, this is not a twenty-somethings romantic tale; these are adults who have life experiences that have molded them into the persons they are today. Coming from very different backgrounds [information about each one's past is distributed bit-by-bit throughout the play], their individual experiences with marriage, children, family, jobs, social expectations, and the need to break traditions, affords the playwright and the company the opportunity to delve into subjects that audiences share in common with the characters.

And when we are graced by the strong and truthful performances by these two gifted actors, there is hardly a moment when we are not engaged.

Yet things happen so quickly, stretching credibility that the aforementioned changes in their relationship as well as some elements of their physical appearance could have happened in a matter of hours.

Ms. VandenHeuvel and Mr. Pritchett are so committed to their roles,mspeaking the play's naturalistic dialogue with utter confidence and comfort, that audiences readily accept the gaps in the script that omit sufficient evidence that might have supplied clearer answers to the characters' motives.

Production values (set, lights, costumes, sound) are all top notch, making the Octagon's intimate space the ideal location for this intimate two-handler. -- And the quality of the acting involves audiences long after the performance ends.