Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
The first act of Aipotu takes place one day, seven years after Cold Harbor left Lydie Breeze and her chosen trio of veterans on the sandy shores of Nantucket. Lydie, Joshua, and Amos are still living out their utopian vision, but now there is a baby to take care of, Dan has been away for weeks, and funds are running low. Simmering resentments rise to the surface when Joshua gets a stinging rejection from the publisher he idolizes, putting an end to the project that has been motivating the entire commune. From a Hollywood-style train heist to blood red rain, the rest of their tragic story has enough dazzling joy and devastating calamity to give Aipotu the same mythic feel as its predecessor.
Melanie Julian is magnificent as Lydie Breeze, exuding strength and love even when she is completely broken. Julian embraces Lydie's pettiness and cruelty along with the power of her love and the force of her convictions. The result is a heroine as authentic and compelling as any I've seen on stage. Charlie DelMarcelle is brooding and self-centered as Joshua Hickman, infusing the play with a sense of despair. Ed Swidey gives a remarkable performance as the much abused Amos Mason, maintaining an aura of self-doubt even after he comes into his own. David Girard is the rough-edged but always amiable Dan Grady. Some of the ensemble form a small period band (they have a harmonium!) that plays the wonderful original score by Jay Ansill and Cynthia Hopkins. Their performance during intermission turns what could be an uncomfortably long 20 minutes into a delightful bonus.
Marketa Fantova's set design for the first act is impressive, using a deceptively simple arrangement of sand, wooden planks and boxes to create the Nantucket shore. The set for the second act is equally effective at creating a discrete and vivid space, but requires the audience seating to be shifted around in a way that is clearly time consuming (hence the 20 minute intermission) and does not really add anything to the experience. Mike Inwood's lighting is a boon to the production, as are Marie Anne Chiment's thoughtful and well-executed costume designs.
The body count may be lower in Aipotu, but the sense of loss and desperation is as palpable as ever. It is tempting to ask what went wrong, to find a flaw in the ideology that brings these people together. But if Aipotu teaches us anything, it's that the search for profound truth and universal explanations is inherently misguided. It is the everyday actions, petty emotions, and random twists of fate that make and break us. And anything can happen.
The initial run of EgoPo Classic Theater's world premier of Aipotu runs through March 18th, 2018, at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American Street, Philadelphia PA. A short run of three-day and one-day marathon performances will start running on April 25th. More information about the Trilogy, tickets, and information about the company can be found online at www.egopo.org.