Playwright Carter Lewis is the winner of the Julie Harris Playwriting Award, the State Theatre's Best New American Play Prize, the 1996 and 2001 Cincinnati Playhouse Rosenthal New Play Prize, the 2001 New Dramatist Playwriting Award, the 2003 Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation Award, and is a two time nominee for the American Theatre Critics Award. His works include Art Control, A Geometric Digression of the Species, Soft Click Of A Switch, An Asian Jockey In Our Midst, The One-Eyed Man Is King, Golf With Alan Shepard, Picasso Does My Maps, Women Who Steal, Men On The Take, While We Were Bowling, American Storm, Kid Peculiar, and Civil Disobedience. Lewis is currently serving as Playwright-in-Residence at Washington University.
Set in a small Midwest college town, Ordinary Nation is the story of economics professor and author Nation Jones. He shares his modest home with his precocious teenage daughter Frankie - who is a brilliant poker shark, and his colorful father, G.J. - who is a bookie inclined to be in debt. Nation's estranged wife, Allison, has left her family to focus on her role as campaign manager for local politician Gibb Aston, with whom she shares more than a professional interest.
Nation struggles with financial issues compounded by his father's bookie debts, as his latest novel is passed over by publishers, and he is passed over for tenure at his college. His marital separation seems to be driven not by any real conflict, but by Allison's feeling that he is too much a man of thought and not enough a man of action. In searching for personal fulfillment amidst her mid-life crisis, Allison has simply checked out of the marriage and latched onto Gibb Aston whom she perceives is the man of action that Nation is not. Frankie and Nation both fear that Allison will try to take Frankie if she divorces Nation and marries Gibb.
Steered by Allison, Nation innocently becomes involved in something tied to Gibb and his campaign that appears questionably ethical, if not illegal. It is fair to say that, in the world of politics, choices are sometimes made to benefit the majority knowing that they negatively effect a minority. Weighing cost and benefit changes when the cost is about ethics and lives. It is a question of the end justifying the means, in seeing how much of their ethics these characters are willing to compromise in order to get what they think they want and need.
Carter Lewis skillfully addresses the world of politics and morals. The banter of ethical semantics between Allison and Nation is well written. He also provides great contemporary dialogue for Frankie's adolescent character, and the dry wit of Nation's father G.J.. Ordinary Nation works easily on several levels. There is social/political commentary, consideration of meaningful personal moral dilemmas, and observations of a family in transition. The layers all fit together comfortably in the hands of playwright Carter Lewis.
Joe Kimble is the consummate "every man" as Nation Jones. His goals are no loftier than to be happy and successful while maintaining a sound basic code of ethics for himself and his daughter. Kimble portrays Nation with believability and heart while bearing the cross of the moral compass of the play. A talented Annie Fitzpatrick plays the self-centered Allison with a bit too much likeability. We are almost inclined to forget that she has abandoned her family without looking back except to take with her what she wants. A bit of an edge to the character would be an easier sell. With tanned skin, a practiced smile, and resonant public speaking voice, Peter Thomasson is beautifully cast as the well-oiled and polished politician Gibb Aston.
Patrons may have a tough time recognizing returning Florida Stage actor Dan Leonard as G.J., with shaved head and age makeup. He does a delightful turn as Nation's father, and leaves the audience wanting to see more of the character. Emily Zimmer as Frankie is engaging and real and funny and smart. She taps into the author's voice as Frankie with a style that highlights the comedy of this very watchable play.
Ordinary Nation will appear at Florida Stage through June 15, 2008. The theater is located in Plaza del Mar, at 262 S. Ocean Blvd. in Manalapan. Florida Stage is a professional theater, with extensive programs for young artists, hiring Equity and non-Equity performers from across the United States. Florida Stage is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the League of Resident Theatres, the Florida Professional Theatre Association, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, and the National New Play Network.
Performance days/times are normally Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2:00 PM; and Sundays at 7:00 PM. Tickets and other information may be obtained by calling the box office at (561) 585-3433 or (800) 514-3833, or contacting them online at www.floridastage.org.
* Designates member of Actors' Equity Association: the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
** Designates member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.
+Designates member of the United Scenic Artists.