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Voices of Swords

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Loni Ackerman.
Photo by Claire Taddei.

A pair of red boxing gloves may hold the key for solidifying Kari Floren's sketchy play Voices of Swords, a work still struggling to find a clear voice in that hazy netherworld that lies somewhere between comedy and drama.

Voices of Swords, on view at Walkerspace with a run time of a little over 100 minutes, attempts to mix the two tones while examining the changing relationship between aging parents and their adult children. Olivia (Loni Ackerman, giving the strongest and most consistent performance of the production), is a feisty and independent woman who has been hit with two major blows: the death of her husband and her own impending heart surgery. For once in her life she is frightened, and what she wants is for her son Kosey (Phillip Christian) to come and help care for her.

But Kosey is having none of this. His mother has raised him to be as strong and stubborn as she, and he views her entreaties as mere manipulation. ("We don't ask for things or make polite requests," she says of their relationship. "We stage battles.") Instead, Kosey has hired Alexis (Celia Schaefer), a personal organizer, to help Olivia get things in order prior to the surgery—a questionable approach to helping a woman whose sock drawer is color-coded and whose underwear drawer is "a work of art." Nevertheless, Olivia decides to keep Alexis (who, as it turns out, is a most disorganized personal organizer) on hand in order to cultivate her as an ally in her fight to get Kosey to return home.

Meanwhile, Alexis has her own problems, in her relationship with her own parents (Bob Ari and Gillien Goll) and with her siblings—all of whom have left her with the responsibility of being chief caregiver. She also has to contend with the pending marriage of her ex-husband (Michael McKenzie) and with her wish to reunite with her own estranged daughter. The plot turns on everyone's efforts to sort things out.

Lots of models exist for anyone interesting in exploring familial disarray for the stage, from Christopher Durang's biting absurdist comedies to Tracy Letts's portrayal of viciousness personified in August: Osage County. Both of these playwrights have managed to richly mine the dark humor inherent in the situations they write about. Unfortunately, neither Ms. Floren nor the director Eve Brandstein has found the right tone for Voices of Swords, and the play occupies a flatland between drama and easy sitcom humor. There are a couple of scenes in which Ms. Ackerman as Olivia dons a pair of red boxing gloves, and perhaps the play might be strengthened by giving boxing gloves to the entire cast and letting them duke it out in an over-the-top stylistic manner to elevate the goings-on. As it stands, however, Voices of Swords fails to honor Olivia's feistiness with some of its own.

Voices of Swords
Through September 7
WalkerSpace, 46 Walker Street between Broadway and Church Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix

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