Things that shine: the waters reflecting off the sand of the Great Lakes, the stars in the Chicago night sky, the jangling coins of 8¢ a watch at the bottom of your purse, and the Colonial Players production of These Shining Lives. As the penultimate production of their 2013/2014 calendar season, this touching drama tells a tragic fairytale of sorts; a beautiful story woven into history that set the world to rights for women and workers in America. Their story glimmers, their lives radiate, the truth will shine through in the end. Directed by Craig Allen Mummey, this play which received its world premier just six years ago at CENTERSTAGE, is a beautiful piece of inspiring theatre with a message of hope for all tucked within its sorrowful story.
Carefully crafting the world of this story, the design team at Colonial Players is setting itself worlds apart from other productions with its intricate attention to detail, inventive and overall aesthetically stunning approach to decorating the performance. Sound Designer Keith Norris floods the darkness with a gradual build of ticking clocks until the opening of the production is nothing but a cacophony of time marching ceaselessly forward. Norris uses gentle seashore sounds for the tranquil moments at the beach, covering the shows few scene changes with ease. Coupling Norris’ designs with the work of Lighting Designer Alex Brady, there are moments that radiate in the performance to highlight plot development. Brady’s use of black light to make everything glow in an unnatural yet tragically beautiful fashion creates a perfect parallel for the progression of the story. Costume Designer Beth Terranova focuses on the minutia of her design work to create a sense of authenticity in the costumes. Dresses of the 1920’s are more than flapper fitted sleeves with bugle beads and Terranova proves that to the audience with her classy fitted dresses in many patterns that were popular from the time. Her shift in polished work clothes to the more relaxed outfits seen at the lakeshore notes the distinctive difference between work and playtime in the women’s lives; the littoral color scheme and patterns a nice touch to complete the look. Director Craig Allen Mummey in conjunction with Laurie Nolan layers remarkable imagery into the scenic design work of the show. Painting the floor and walls to look like the cosmos where wisps of stardust and glimmer streak by it only upon closer inspection that you see the true brilliance behind their work. Individual clock faces, numbers, even the periodic symbol for Radium are lined into the floor, subtly so as not to catch the eye at first glance. All of these elaborate details are augmented to shining perfection when the black light of Brady’s light work falls upon them; a truly illuminating representation of the play’s overt and subtle themes. The supporting cast has their moments to glow, each showing hints of character development in small shimmering bursts throughout the performance. Krissy McGregor as the sassy smart-mouthed Charlotte is particularly radiant when it comes to mouthing off, while Aricia Skidmore-Williams as the corny jokester Pearl focuses more on restraining her emotional breakdowns during tenser scenes. Josette Dubois, playing the righteous Frances finds her sparkling moment during the beach scene. Both David Carter and Eric Hufford take on multiple male ensemble roles and manage to create little distinctions between them so that there appear to be more actors present than there actually are.
The authenticity of the Chicagoan sound in this production shines through in the character of Tom (Ben Carr). With clipped word delivery, Carr creates a realistic working man from Chicago, the accent sounding spot on, and slightly more exaggerated during moments of heated debate. Carr’s overall performance is impressive as he gives the supporting character a rich depth, making him emotionally accessible to the audience. Quickly switching from loving husband to hot-headed man and back, Carr’s ability to portray multiple emotions makes his character feel genuine. The harrowing breakdown displayed in one of the play’s final scenes is exceptional; bringing the strengthened bond between his character and Catherine (Sarah Wade) to the forefront.
Wade, in the protagonist role, takes the audience by the hand and welcomes them through her journey. A fascinating story teller, Wade takes the tale of Catherine Donohue and makes it her own, convincing all who watch her that she is this carefree woman of the 1920’s whom life has turned against. Her emotional outcries are weighted with authentic grief and confusion; her chipper outlook balancing these heavier moments with a reflective enthusiasm. The chemistry between Wade’s character and Carr’s character also carries a genuine note of love and compassion, even when they vocally spar with one another.
There is a lighthearted youthful and exuberant enthusiasm about Wade’s portrayal of Catherine at the beginning of the show; that glimmer of hope still twinkling through her narration by the end of the story, despite all of the intense changes her character undergoes. Wade is an exceptional performer, mastering this lead role with rapture that keeps the audience held fast to every step of her journey. The story won’t twinkle forever, and eventually the glow will fade. These Shining Lives is a shining example of the fine work on display at Colonial Players. Don’t miss this wonderful production. Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.
These Shining Livesplays through May 31, 2014 Colonial Players— The Colonial Players of Annapolis—108 East Street in Annapolis, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 268-7373, or purchase them online.