Cy Ashley Webb reviews the world premiere of Our Practical Heaven, the third show of Aurora Theatre’s 21st season and the centerpiece of the Global Age Project festival.
Our Practical Heaven offers a window into the lives of six women and their dream abode, situated between the sea and a pond. Like the setting, always between two points, the script goes back and forth, revealing enough to suggest a multitude of connections without really spelling it out. This vagueness is entrancing, keeping the viewer alert to changes in tone, which are as insistence as the sea where the action is located. Playwright Anthony Clarvoe is a master of indirection so that more is conveyed by a glance upstage than is ever really spelled out.
Leez (Adrienne Walters) is the unintentional poet, with occasional word salad dialogue that clarifies connections between things. On the surface, her political activist sister, Suze (Blythe Foster) seems more pulled together, until we learn that she spends more of her time talking to dogs in Appalachia than organizing. Their mother, Sasha (Julia Brothers) is the most damaged of the lot. Disease, age, and failed relationships have so taken their toll so that she does little more than anxiously watch for upcoming disasters and radiate an impotent fear.
Sasha’s mother Vera (Joy Carlin) is the aged matriarch who holds them together. Combining a tender vulnerability and openness not often found in the elderly, she owns the beach house to which they home. She provides the psychic and physical space, as if intuiting that their only chance at being complete is by first giving reign to their incompleteness.
In this mix, are extended family members Willa (Julia Brothers) and her daughter Magz (Lauren Spencer). Willa may be the most functional of the lot as she tries to arrange for Leez’s college and titling of the property after the imminent death of Vera. Her daughter Magz is estranged for reasons that remain unclear. Suffering from some unspecified autoimmune disease, she’s the edgy one of the younger set. Just like his characters in CTRL+ALT+DEL, Clarvoe, presents each of these women as a whole person. The incompleteness don’t so much detract as it engages, presenting riddles that need to be decoded.
Set designer, Mikiko Uesugi, sound designer Clifford Caruthers, and light designer Michael Palumbo created a world on the tiny stage that furthered the dreamy sense of ocean, combining shades of grey with crashing waves and seagull cries.
The first act of this two hour, ten minute play moved rapidly, sustained by tight dialogue. Clarvoe isn’t quite done with the exploration of tech in our lives that he started in CTRL+ALT+DEL, as much of the dialog involves on screen texts between the girls. The second act was substantially weaker, however, as one waits for something to happen. I also found myself resisting the overwhelming femaleness of the production. A friend asked, only partially facetiously, whether this was a modern Little Women.
A Practical Heaven plays Aurora until March 3rd.