Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Barber adapted Enchanted April from the fiction of the same name and he has a most proficient at hand with this craft. He read "Eleanor & Abel," spent some time with author Sanford (who has since passed away), and wrote this play which is set in very tiny Groverdell, Texas.
The interior of a house is the setting, and set designer Alexander Dodge provides appliances which have seen better days, wooden tables and chairs, some hanging plants and pots. The cooling system does not work and the rear porch needs tending. It is 1995 and Eleanor Bannister (Alexander) has retired after having taught school for decades. Her neighbor Grace Bodell (Judith Ivey) tends to watch, from her nearby home, most everything. That includes the time when Eleanor, wearing just a nightgown, walked through prickly bushes near her home, which Grace recalls to Eleanor when she comes to visit. Abel Brown is a drifter who might or might not be a bit shady, and one who is immediately enticed by white-haired Eleanor, a tight-lipped grammarian. Eleanor is on stage for virtually the entirety of this production while Abel (also a handyman) and Grace come and go.
Fireflies is a consummate character piece which, through its charm and precision, is neatly delivered by these knowing character actors. Grace is a chatterer and she considers Eleanor's business to be hers, too. Without being asked, Grace, also quite comedic, offers willing commentary and opinion. Eleanor is quite introspective. When Eugene Claymire (played by McFarland) makes his entrance, it affords Eleanor an opportunity to query her former student who is now a town cop. She wonders how he once saw her, and he describes her as "constant." Abel's past, revealed during the final portion of the play, fuels the overall plot with some tension. What had been a gently satisfying piece now probes deeper.
Fireflies is never in a hurry. Gordon Edelstein, directing, realizes that his actors are poised and controlled. They are allowed the opportunity to feel for their characters by bringing individual traits to the audience. The casting enables complementary performance, the give-and-take which benefits from quality collective presence. The performances can be trusted and the play makes a positive statement about fully experiencing moments of time.
Judith Ivey, seemingly effortless with her perfect comic timing, opens the play bringing forth a stream of playwright Barber's words. Alexander, who has been in more than 100 plays, is a disciplined, detailed actress. While Arndt's Abel is a fulcrum upon which the story line evolves, this is very much a play about two women. It all seems very real, brought to lovely existence by exquisite performances.
This is not a sentimental play. Rather, it is a composite photo or a carefully shot home movie. It takes you inside people's lives as they age. Less is truly more and the script stays clear of excessive explanation. For certain, the play proffers possibilities for those moving past midlife.
Fireflies continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, through November 5th, 2017. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit longwharf.org.