Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Gulf
Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of The Little Foxes and The Diary of Anne Frank

Maria Rizzo, left, and Rachel Zampelli
Photo by Margot Schulman
In its purest form, theater can be defined as two people conversing and dealing with conflict. That is what audiences will find in Signature Theatre's world premiere production of The Gulf: two talented performers charting the highs and lows of a turbulent relationship in real time for almost 90 minutes.

Playwright Audrey Cefaly's script probably could work with the two actors sitting side by side on a proscenium stage, but director Joe Calarco has chosen to echo the emotional upheaval of the characters by placing Rachel Zampelli and Maria Rizzo on a set in constant motion, surrounded by seating on all sides of the small ARK Theatre.

Kendra (Zampelli) and Betty (Rizzo) are southern good old girls. In a small boat on the Gulf of Mexico off Alabama, Kendra fishes while Betty naps, reads, and talks about one thing or another. They love each other, they are physically drawn to each other, but they also know how to irritate each other. Their isolation on the water seems pleasant enough until they have to face the possibility that they may be stranded in the gulf.

Betty is a bartender who dreams of going to community college and doing better for herself. She would like to bring Kendra along, but Kendra's fine with her job at the sewage treatment plant. Each has expectations that the other doesn't want to fulfill.

Rizzo and Zampelli give incisive and sharply detailed performances that shift focus as Betty's aspirations repeatedly run into Kendra's pragmatism.

Paige Hathaway has created an ingenious scenic design that places the skeletal boat in the center, on a pivot that allows it to rotate 360 degrees as Zampelli propels it with a long metal pole. The undulating forms in the floor, the ceiling (where they drip with Spanish moss), and the walls behind the audience suggest the constant motion of the water, illuminated by flickering lights in jars on the floor.

Andrew Cissna's lighting design, with its use of shadows, and Kenny Neal's sound design help draw the viewer in, while Frank Labovitz has designed costumes that are both realistic and evidence of the differences between the two women (one in boots, the other in flip-flops).

Signature Theatre
The Gulf
September 13th - November 6th, 2016
By Audrey Cefaly
Betty: Maria Rizzo
Kendra: Rachel Zampelli
Directed by Joe Calarco
ARK Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or