Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
we are continuous
Also see Fred's review of Songs for a New World
The setting, in today's America, is a living room which is, at times, one unit and then split apart to suit the story. The configuration is achieved by Dots, which is a New York City based group that creates such designs. Rivers, who lives in Minnesota, is a highly regarded playwright, and TheaterWorks/Hartford presented his This Bitter Earth not that long ago. The new play immediately cuts to his childhood and then adolescence.
The Son (Leland Fowler) had a very close relationship early on with his Mother (Brenda Pressley). When he revealed that he was gay, that loving vibe became challenging to maintain. The audience never sees his father, but his presence is felt. The parents, practicing and ardent Christians, could not accept the boy's sexuality. The tension rises when, as a young man, Son marries Husband (Tom Holcomb).
Rivers is an exceptionally adept realistic dialogue writer whose words, delivered by a trio of skilled actors, carry this play. Director Tyler Thomas facilitates the cast through many shifts as the impactful plot escalates. Clearly, Mother was loving and protective but the balance shifts, especially after Son, then coupled with Husband, receives a cautionary medical diagnosis.
Here's the early rub to what is certainly, in the end, compassionate and telling theater: Rivers's characters speak short, medium-length, and longer monologues oftentimes while looking at the audience. Later, as intensity accelerates, one character gazes or stares at another. They do not converse. For quite some time this can be disconcerting. It is by no means a stretch to imagine sensitive or explosive reactions if only the actors were vocalizing in a more conventional back-and-forth, in your face, mode.
Still, this adroit playwright takes a bold leap with this WTF-commissioned play by moving outside traditional boundaries as the three characters energize his taut, moving script. For a time, you, as I did, might shake your head and wonder whether the atypical approach with dialogue is the best option. That avenue, in the end, is a theatrical winner.
Early on, by the way, more than a few theatergoers amid the opening night attendees seemed to find Rivers's words hilarious. An audience segment of younger patrons (Rivers is 40) might more easily tune into comic moments than those a generation plus older. That said, as the production's pace and fraught dynamism beat toward a compassionate climax, everyone in the house seemed unified in rapt reaction.
The soaring quality of performance for this show must be noted. Should one of the three performers be off-kilter, the result would be fractured performance. These actors are always on. Brenda Pressley has a lengthy list of credits on and off Broadway, on TV, and in films as well. Her Mother experiences a vast array of feelings and this actress is always affecting. Playing Son (also called Simon), Leland Fowler, who has appeared Off-Broadway and at many regionals, does stand in (one assumes to some measure) for writer Rivers. Fowler's portrayal is filled with heart and soul. Tom Holcomb, as Husband, has taken numerous roles Off-Broadway and on the regional stage. He acted in the aforementioned This Bitter Earth at TheaterWorks. Holcomb, last on stage, shows precise touch and feel for his character.
we are continuous,breaking free from traditional format, simmers and ultimately flourishes as it realizes the promise of Harrison David Rivers's high, contemporary drama.
we are continuous runs through August 14, 2022, at Williamstown Theatre Festival, 84 Spring St., Williamstown MA. For information and tickets, call 413-458-3253 or visit wtfestival.org.