Sunday, October 29, 2017

Cloverdale Playhouse: "Whales and Souls"

Disclosure: the reviewer is a member of the Board of Directors of The Cloverdale Playhouse.

Chris Roe -- an alumnus of the UofA/ASF Graduate Acting Company -- returned to Montgomery last week for an all-too-short run of Whales and Souls as part of The Cloverdale Playhouse's new "underground experience".

A hit in the New York Fringe Festival, Andrew Kramer's one-hour one-man play is subtitled "An adult fable" that fits into the Playhouse's stated aim here of showcasing "new and exciting explore off-beat avant-garde" works that reach "our community hungry for new edgier works".

Performed on the outdoor Courtyard Stage on two successive chilly nights that enhanced the atmosphere of Whales and Souls [a collaboration with "Sexy Dirt Productions" in New York], the minimal props and evocative screen projections highlighted Mr. Roe's expressive interpretations of seven distinct characters; starting as its narrator [a Parks and Rec guide], he weaves a mesmerizing tale of a family and community caught up in the impact of corporate greed that pollutes both the local lake and the lifeblood of its residents. He plays all the parts with subtle changes of voice and posture so effortlessly that we never doubt who is speaking.

With literary nods to Greek and Shakespearean tragedy and to Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, and with several Gothic elements that include a "forbidden love", a "medicine woman/witch", and  a "creature" that emerges from the lake to issue warnings of death and destruction to the neighborhood if they don't curb the corporate takeover, Mr. Roe's manner conscripts his audiences to take heed to the seriousness of the play's themes of greed and vanity and passion that often interfere with ecological and moral ideals.

Director Matt Renskers [another UofA/ASF alum] has Mr. Roe embody each of the characters so completely that we understand their motives and relationships as they develop. The performance is impressive, fluid, expressive, and chilling, as we get more and more involved with the fate of the lakeside community as well as with our own.