Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Ms. Symons has two other plays to her credit, one of which is Lark Eden, an epistolary play which I saw a few years ago and was enthralled with. If any women's group is tired of the usual handful of feminist plays that are available (The Vagina Monologues and The Heidi Chronicles for starters), might I suggest this one, which requires very little in the way of resources to produce and has great emotional richness as it chronicles three women who weave in and out of each other's lives. Ms. Symons also has written the family saga The Buffalo Kings which was presented by freeFall Theatre a few years ago and which I missed, but was very well received.
Naming True falls into the category of chance encounter plays; two (or more) characters from wildly disparate backgrounds (sometimes universes) connect with each other, and their differences cause sparks. The set up is not completely convincing. Nell is a formerly homeless, dying woman who spent the majority of her life on the streets of Detroit and now with the aid of dramatic license is in a seedy Florida motel room. She has been desperately trying to get her memoirs written and published and, voila, transgender editor Amy shows up all the way from Seattle so that Nell won't kill herself as soon as the book is published. The audience also has to accept that Nell is a voracious reader, familiar with T.S. Elliot.
The strength of the play lays in Ms. Symons' ability to draw emotionally rich characters, and both Nell and Amy are interesting themselves and in the way they react to each other. Nell has that street edge that I have encountered in my human services career, some streaks of real intelligence mixed with difficulty forming necessary relationships with others. Amy lacks self-assurance which harks back to a lack of acceptance from others of her true self. In the end, the audience is confronted with several issues that potentially resonate: poverty, gender identity, and sexual abuse. Sexual abuse has been a recurring theme in Sarasota theater this season; Stalking the Bogeyman at another theater company and Bonita recently at Urbanite both were centered on this issue. Here it is only one of the colors on the pallette of Nell's emotional history.
This production's strengths are the performances by two fine actresses. Minka Wiltz, based in Atlanta, as Nell and Alexia Jasmene, from Chicago, as Amy. Ms. Jasmene is a transgender actress which brings authenticity to her portrayal. Both actresses give bold performances in roles where the characters are not emotionally strong.
Daniel Kelly directs with a sure handI will never stop saying that, when there is a stage full of strong acting, there is a fine director at work. Becki Leigh's costumes are appropriate for the place and social class of the characters, Jeffrey Webber's scenic design really does feel like a motel room that could be found a mere few miles from the theater on US 41, North Tamiami trail. Joseph Oshry has produced a near miraclesubtle lightning effects with a minimum of available resources (the theater seats 70).
The world premiere production of Naming True is a mixed bag: fine acting and technical elements in support of an imperfect script. But Urbanite Theatre continues to challenge its audiences with provocative theater. Best wishes on the start of their third season.
Urbanite Theatre presents Naming True through July 2, 2017, at 1487 2nd St. Sarasota. Visit www.urbanitetheatre.com for more information.
Cast: Nell: Minka Wiltz*