Sunday, September 25, 2022

Nora's Playhouse at the Sanctuary: "Ashes & Ink"

 The World Premier of emerging playwright Martha Pichey's potent Ashes & Ink opened at The Sanctuary in Montgomery to a welcoming opening night audience.

Produced by New York based "Nora's Playhouse", an organization dedicated to "creating opportunities for women theatre artists", the play focuses on addiction and mental health, topics which many people find difficult to address, especially when they impact immediate family.

Sensitively directed by "Nora's" founding Artistic Director Caroline Reddick Lawson, the two-act play's episodic structure shows us how these issues impact the developing relationship between Molly [Mariah Reilly] and Leo [Michael Buchanan], each of whom has lost a spouse and are now made to face their respective sons' issues, as well as their own.

There's a lot packed into the two-hour running time: various forms of addiction, enabling and denial, good intentions with questionable results, control vs. freedom, trust issues, parental roles and children's needs, the difficulty of being honest about one's self and others especially under stressful circumstances.

Molly's almost adult son Quinn [Chason Marvin] is an aspiring actor who has been in treatment for drug addiction, and whose clashes with his Mother shift on his good and bad days. -- Leo's young son Felix [Austin Wendell] has difficulty expressing his needs and feelings about the loss of his Mother, though he and Quinn manage to strike up a bond.

Molly's blind sister Bree [Meghan Yapana Ducote] helps catalogue recordings of bird songs for Molly's research project, and becomes a sounding board for Molly's challenges.

And Molly and Leo -- polar opposites in personality [she gets frustrated easily, and he is calmer, even as he pursues a PhD] -- try to make their relationship work while attempting to manage their sons' problems.

The journey isn't easy for any of them. Or for the audience. The ensemble of actors dig deeply into their characters, sometimes exhibiting raw emotions that can't help but impact anyone with a compassion for the problems facing their fellows.

Played on Rita Pearson-Dailey's finely detailed unit set contrasting Molly's city apartment with Leo's rustic country place, that allows for smooth transitions; and with Katie Pearson's well-chosen costumes, the action only occasionally slows down during scene changes.

Ashes & Ink provides a powerful evening in local theatre, with attention to difficult subjects made accessible through an intelligent script and a strong acting ensemble.