Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Rob's review of Nine
This year's premiere is The Wait by John Goff, a Los Angeles writer and actor who was born and raised on the coast of the state of Mississippi. "Write what you know," and he does. The story concerns a family whose living depends on the sea. Big Git, the father, is one of the last independent shrimp/crab fishermen on the Gulf. For him, the sea is anthropomorphized, or I should say deifieda spirit with which you can communicate. Whether she listens or answers doesn't seem to make a difference to his belief that she is something more than just water. He is wedded to the sea as much as he is to his wife Lila, and Lila knows it and accepts it.
However, it's time for Big Git to give up the dangerous seafaring life and turn the boat, named The Auld Sod in tribute to Git's Irish heritage, over to his only son, Little Git. (Maybe these are the kind of names that people really have in that part of the country.) Will Little continue shrimping, or sell the boat and look for work on land? Will Little and his girlfriend Annie tie the knot? Will Big Git and Lila finally take that trip to Ireland? These are just a few of the plot points, and to reveal any more would spoil what suspense there is. It's not a plot-driven play anyway. It's a relationship play.
It turns out that The Wait is a very apt title for this play, with maybe more meanings than the author intended. The characters wait, and so does the audience. We early on sense that something bad happened out on the water some time before the play begins, but we have to wait until just before intermission to find out what it is. There's about half an hour of talk during which almost nothing happens except slowly revealed exposition. So we wait.
The second act takes place in a seaside restaurant where the characters "wait the wait" during a raging storm at sea. It's a little like J. M. Synge's Riders to the Sea, in which members of a family wait together to see who the sea will take nextexcept with Southern accents. (You can tell this is a play for Americans rather than for the Irish by the ending.) It's a play in which the characters sit around and talk about things that have happened or are happening offstage. I was never bored, but it does take its time, and so we wait.
Most of the dialogue is realistic to the setting, but some of it in the second act sounded false to me. When Annie tells Little words to the effect of "I can't marry you now because there's something missing inside of you and the only place you can find that missing part and make yourself whole is out there on the water," it sounds too much like California pop psychology. Could you be a little more specific, Annie? We should be able to discover this through dialogue, action and character. We shouldn't have to have it explained to us.
Despite what I think are some faults in the dramatic construction of the play, this production is worth seeing because of the excellent performances, staging and directing. Peter Parkin, the director, has brought together a fine technical staff and five of Albuquerque's best actors. Lorri Oliver as Lila gives one of her strongest performances ever. We learn more from her facial expressions than we do from the script, and her expressions are subtle, not overly emotive. This is what acting is all about. She is paired with the consistently excellent, can-do-no-wrong actor Philip Shortell as the older Git, adding another character to his list of fine performances.
Michael Weppler is another consistently good actor and he does well in the role of Little Git. I have seen Janine O'Neill-Loffelmacher mostly in musicals, but here she proves that she has dramatic chops as well, and she provides the very few moments of humor in this show as she gets drunker and drunker. Theater veteran Vernon Poitras has the relatively small role of the seaside restaurant owner. As usual, he is very good, but the little black mustache he wears is distracting and many of his lines are almost drowned out by the sound effects of the storm and the waves. A little more volume in the voice would help.
The production design by Petifoger and Linda Wilson is excellent, and the painted backdrop of stormy skies is impressive, but since it never changes it doesn't jibe with every scene. The lighting is very well done by Lexie Williamson and, I'm assuming, Petifoger. The sound design by Kirbie Seis is essential to the play and for the most part is perfect, but the voiceover at the end sounds phony. Maybe it could be redone with someone of an appropriate age.
Although I enjoyed parts of the script, I was not enamored of the play as a whole, as written. Its main asset is that it gives us a glimpse into the lives of people that most of us will never meet, in a part of the country that most of us will never visit. As usual with the Adobe, the production values are high and the cast is great, so if you want to see what life is like for some on the Gulf Coast (and why you shouldn't complain about the price of shrimp), pay a visit to the Adobe.
The Wait, through August 26, 2018, at The Adobe Theater, 9813 4th Street NW, Albuquerque NM. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Pay What You Want performance on Thursday, 8/23. Tickets $17 to $20. Tickets and info at www.adobetheater.org.