A Sensitive production of Anthony Clarvoe's
Our Practical Heaven could be considered a play with Chekhovian themes about three generations of women facing the 21st century side by side. Among these women are bird watchers, or "birders" as they are known, living in their "refused" seaside home that will likely fall victim to rising seas. These women are facing a future that will be very different from the past, with tides crashing onto the shore. They expect to long survive the rising sea. They do chores, text each other, and even dance. They argue over hackneyed things. They watch birds and watch each other while struggling for loyalty, legacy and turf. They manage with everything from family tensions to environmental changes that include mother and daughter confrontations on cancer, merciless capitalism, mounting sea levels, autoimmune diseases, and senior parents.
The play still seems unfinished since some of the characters and relationships need to be fleshed out, but it is receiving a charming production thanks to a great cast of both veteran and accomplished young actresses. The older women are fervent birders while the younger ones look more at their hand-held devices than the birds.
The matriarch of the family is Vera, who is a veteran of unspecified progressive causes but slowly becoming senile. She is played by the incomparable Joy Carlin who gives a wonderful performance and has some of the best lines in the two hour and five minute play. Vera's daughter is the fast talking and restless Sasha, played beautifully by Anne Darragh. She has two daughters, Suze, a social activist who had been working in Appalachia played perfectly by Blythe Foster, and the younger Leez, an idiosyncratic dreamer played very admirably by Adrienne Walters. Julia Brothers vividly plays Sasha's lifelong friend Willa and semi-sibling rival who has great sympathy for everyone in Vera's family. Lauren Spencer gives a splendid performance as Willa's estranged daughter who has an enervating disease that leaves her in constant pain.
Director Allen McKelvey makes clever use of texting between the girls on how they see their mothers, while using splinters of conversation on the far side of the four-sided theatre. However, there are just too many of these slivers and it becomes repetitive. The lighting by Michael Palumbo is excellent, especially when the characters are relaxing in the sunshine of a day at the beach.
Our Practical Heaven runs through March 3rd at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org. Coming up next is a new translation of Max Frisch's classic comic parable The Arsonists by Mark Jackson. It opens on April 5 and runs through May 12.