Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
The Drowning Girls tells the story of three women who meet the same serial killer between 1912 and 1914 and each ends up drowned. The play is a kaleidoscope of sensibilities. Much of the play is an ensemble piece in which the narrative is moved forward by all three cast members acting almost as a Greek chorus, while sometimes a piece of the story is fleshed out in greater detail, with the actress who is playing the woman at the center of the scene aided by the others jumping in to portray the other characters. This play could be utterly confusing in the hands of a lesser director, but here the arc remains clear. Based on a talk-back I attended and my own reaction, the play conjures very different reactions from women and men.
The brilliant cast is made up of one of Sarasota's leading lights, Katherine Michelle Tanner, as Margaret and two visitors; Nicole Jeannine Smith as Bessie; and Carley Cornelius as Bessie. The three create a seamless ensemble and still are able to step into the other scenes vividly. Plays requiring actors to step into and out of varied roles are sometimes brought down by performers who are not equally adept at all the characters they have to play. These three actresses acquit themselves very well, and Carley Cornelius, called upon to play a couple of male characters, is far more believable stepping across gender boundaries than almost anyone else I have ever seen.
Much credit must be laid at the feet of director Brendan Regan, co-Artistic Director of Urbanite Theatre, who weaves the various strands of this play into a unified whole. He also brings together three actresses, who as far as I know have not worked together before, and makes them seem like an ensemble with many years of experience together, altogether a magnificent directing job. He is aided by some of the finest technical resources seen at this theater, and I am hesitant to say this because several of their previous productions have far exceeded whatever might have been expected from such a low budget company (Isaac's Eye comes roaring back to mind for its vivid theatricality). Rew Tippin's scenic design (also sound engineer) is the most elaborate work I have seen at this theater, perfectly capturing the main theatrical image of bathtubs (all the women were drowned in a bathtub). Riley Leonhardt's costume designs are authentically of the period and a major asset. The excellent lighting design by Ryan Finzelber helps focus the shifting moods and aura of the piece.
By now Sarasota audiences should have a good idea of whether the dynamic of Urbanite Theatre is a match for their tastes. One of the great strengths of this company is that they have a unique esthetic that is very much their own. The Drowning Girls shows them at the top of their game, making me very sad to have missed two productions in their inaugural season.
Urbanite Theatre presents The Drowning Girls through May 22, 2016, at 1487 2nd St. Sarasota. Visit www.urbanitetheatre.com for more. information.
Co Artistic Directors: Brendan Regan and Summer Dawn Wallace