For all who were wondering: there is, in fact, a whole world across the river in Anacostia. In that world sits a lovely little theater called the Anacostia Playhouse. And, if you ever have the opportunity, you should take the metro (it’s only 5 stops past Gallery Place, and faster to get to than Arlington) to this fabulous little spot. Recently I went there to see a lovely piece of theater called Spark, put on by Theater Alliance.
Well, let’s begin with the design. The set is beautiful. The ramshackle home of the main characters is haunting without being decrepit. It’s a place that’s being held together with love and hard work (which can be a great replacement for money). So, huzzah to Deborah Wheatley for the fantastic backdrop to our story.
Martha Mountain did a phenomenal job of creating the passage of time with the lighting design of the show. The set never changes, but the world still seems to move forward in a meaningful way.
This is my first time watching Addison Switzer on stage as a reviewer. And, while he had a few moments that were clear and concise, the majority of his time on stage (which is, admittedly, only one scene) was spent wandering some unexplained, emotional wilderness that I was not privy to. I would have loved some more concrete choices in that scene -which goes for his scene partner as well because she – Anna Lathrop – did a beautiful job with the rest of the play. And the other issue I had was with some of the moments of song. Sarah Kathryn Strasser (Evelyn Glimord) was able to make the songs a part of whatever task she was doing, whereas Anna (who played Lexie Glimord) tended to stand still and sing into the ether without inflection (this may have been a choice, but I was unclear as to why that choice would have been made).
And now the delightful stuff. And there is much of it! First, the script (written by Caridad Svich). The philosophical ideas brought to light by this script were manifold. I won’t list all of them here (that’s a whole other story), but I will give you a few. The concept that it is equally difficult to leave the world you know to fight on foreign soil, as it is to remain and fight for your life over here. The idea that fighting for survival can be immediate, or prolonged (firefights compared to crushing poverty).The knife’s edge that separates obligation and duty (doing something because you feel that you owe it to someone or doing it because you know that it’s right). These are all covered, and are all left up to the audience to explore. I love theater that makes you think!.
Now for the actors. Sarah Kathryn Strasser plays the oldest Glimord sister. She has been trying to keep the family’s body connected to their souls since their mother died years ago. Sarah plays the passive aggressive Evelyn with a brave facade and a barely buried rage at the world whose only outlet is her siblings.The emotional dance she moves through is mesmerizing. She is a total bitch to her sisters at times, but, somehow, all you want to do is give her a hug and let her know that it will be all right.
Ali Glimord (played by Alison Donnelly) is the feisty one in the bunch. With dreams of becoming a boxer, she rails against her impoverished reality, but seemingly succumbs to it. The hormonal teenager she plays flies off every handle like it scalds her, but never quite manages to choose between the fire of her passion or the frying pan of her home life. Apparently, being burned alive by her circumstances transforms her into a phoenix.
Anna Lathrop (playing Lexie Glimord) has just returned from the war in the Middle East. A grounding presence on the stage, Anna cuts through the family drama like a hammer wrapped in razon wire. Her illusions have been stripped from her and she refuses to acknowledge her sisters’ illusions anymore. She is stolid in the face of all criticisms and barbs and shrugs off the drama that her sisters create without ever being antagonistic about it. This artful performance was a perfect complement to her sisters’ railings.
And, finally, Carlos Saldaña (playing Hector Johnson) lit up the stage. In the darkened mire of the Glimmer girls’ (as he calls them) reality, Carlos shines like a beacon. He is simple and clear in his goals. He wants joy to blossom, and will do what he needs to to see that happen.
Now, I know that it’s been a long review, but if you stick with me for one more minute, I am sure Director Colin Hovde will appreciate it. Colin makes me smile for any number of reasons, but, in regards to this production, he makes me smile because he understands the difference between nuance and force. He takes apart complex issues and presents them in a way that makes them universal and provocative. He has a talent for getting an audience to discuss the show they have just seen, which is becoming a lost art. When art is confined to the theater, it is easy to dismiss. When we carry it out into the world with us, dismissal becomes much harder.
You will carry Spark with you.
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, and a 15-minute intermission.
Spark plays through September 28, 2014 at Theater Alliance performing at Anacostia Playhouse – 2020 Shannon Place, SE , in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.
‘Making Sparks’: Meet the Managing Director, Cast, and Director of Theater Alliance’s ‘Spark’ Part 1: Elliott Bales.
‘Making Sparks’: Meet the Managing Director, Cast, and Director of Theater Alliance’s ‘Spark’ Part 2: Sarah Strasser.
Caridad Svich’s website.