Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Fred's review of Nina Simone: Four Women
While the results are not wholly successful, The Suburbs is, by turns, entertaining and informative, showcasing a host of good performances. Thrown Stone Theatre Company also uses a novel approach for seeing these plays in that each is presented in a different outdoor setting, with audience members travelling from one outdoor stage to another. Seeing The Suburbs will require that you bring your own lawn chair and do a considerable amount of walking between plays. Still, it is certainly a fun way to spend a late summer eveningThrown Stone Theatre Company deserves a round of applause for finding a fresh way to present live theatre during the pandemic.
The first play, An Education: How to Confront the Classics, was written by Catherine Yu. It uses the format of a lecture and incorporates three separate speakers, all with contrasting viewpoints. The charismatic Ian Michael Minh is the first person the audience sees onstage and he effectively draws us in with his scholarly knowledge. Just as important are the other two guest speakers, well played by Bridget Ann White and Will Jeffries. Considering that each separate play in The Suburbs runs roughly twenty minutes, what can be accomplished is limited, but playwright Yu does present a potent discussion. This work is a great way to start the evening, with audience members seated in an elegant courtyard.
If the first play takes a literate approach, the second play, The Caterers, giddily written by Tony Meneses, proves to be sassy and entertaining. The setting is a large kitchen where a group of workers are gathered to cater a wedding. Ian Michael Minh plays a completely different (and amusing) character in this piece, and there are also fine contributions by Justise Hayward, Maya Carter, Nedra Snipes, Bridget Ann White, and Nell Kessler. Playwright Meneses incorporates a great deal of humor into this play and it serves as a kind of spicy appetizer for the audience. Costume designer Brenda Phelps has done a wonderful job of giving each person onstage clothing that helps shape their character and the lighting design by Adam Lobelson is excellent.
The finale is a historically themed play written by Phanésia Pharel and entitled Should We Dance Instead?. It manages to embrace both the past and the present at the same time. Will Jeffries plays the main role, with Bridget Ann White, Tenisi Davis, and Nedra Snipes emerging in period costumes and serving as ghosts from the time of slavery. Importantly, in the background of the setting is a historical building that served as part of the Underground Railroad in Ridgefield. In addition the playwright's intelligent writing, this building lends the play a great deal of significance and helps shape Should We Dance Instead? into a fitting, and sobering, conclusion to The Suburbs.
Hopefully, playwrights Catherine Yu, Tony Meneses, and Phanésia Pharel will have the opportunity to expand these works, for each one is written with dexterity and flair, and, crucially, each keeps the audience engaged. Director Kholoud Sawaf deserves credit for helping The Suburbs attain a sense of unity, with Ridgefield, Connecticut, being the binding theme.
Thrown Stone Theatre Company has certainly found an inventive way to present live theater again and, for that reason alone, The Suburbs deserves to be seen. The three plays feature uniformly excellent ensemble work by the actorsthe only challenge in attending The Suburbs is that one must do a great deal of walking from one stage to another.
Thrown Stone Theatre Company's The Suburbs runs through September 12, 2021, at Keeler Tavern Museum and History Center, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, and West Lane Inn in Ridgefield CT. For tickets, please visit www.thrownstone.org.