Sponsored by CulturalDC, the Source Festival presents 24 new plays over the course of three weeks that showcase the talents of a variety of artists from across the nation. These plays fall into three categories: three full length, eighteen ten-minute plays, and three “artistic blind dates,” which are thirty minute original pieces developed by nine artists over the course of a matter of months. These plays all fall into one of three themes, and this year for the eighth annual Source Festival, those include: Mistakes and Media, Love and Botany, and Science and Soul Mates.
This past Sunday afternoon, I had the opportunity to experience (a love story), the full-length play in the Love and Botany category. Written by Kelly Lusk and directed by Jess Jung, the story follows three couples as they slowly learn about love, and what it means to become lost in the emotion. The play begs the questions: What does it mean to fall in love? How do you act upon it? What if the love is unrequited? What happens if you do not understand it?
The fascinating original play followed the love stories of three couples as they found their own answers to those questions. They all realized through their own journey that love could inspire a variety of other emotions, some positive, and some negative. However, the theme was not only “love,” but also “botany.” Lusk cleverly tied love into evolution, and how the emotion ties into the body. Similar to nature, the emotion developed from nothing, and has transformed into a “being” that we as humans might feel, but barely understand. This thought-provoking work left me speechless, and I was vastly impressed by Lusk’s ability to connect the two areas of the overarching theme (love and botany) into a story that forced me to question my own definition of love.
Jung embraced the complexity of the piece in her staging, particularly with the three narrators: Girl (Julia Klavans), Boy (David Mavricos), and Man (Jack Novak). The theory of evolution suggests the possibility that the world slowly built upon itself and over time, developed into the planet we know today. Jung embraced that concept, and the three narrators acted as that force that slowly built the parts of the story into a cohesive play, beginning with the set.
The set was minimal, and primarily consisted of two rectangular platforms on the stage, which is in a theatre-in-the-round format. However, the narrators were responsible for adding elements to the stage as needed, such as pillows and sheets to represent a bedroom, or a desk to act as an office. However, Jung was careful to ensure that these transitions occurred in a flowing manner, almost as if the story was slowly evolving.
As the narrators described a given shift in the story, they would add the necessary elements to the platforms while the characters entered the scene. The lack of blackouts or breaks in the story allowed me to completely delve into the piece, which the “theatre-in-the-round” concept enhanced. When the narrators were not on the stage, they were sitting with the audience as they occasionally interjected their own lines into the story. Lusk implies through his play that love is an emotion we are all struggling to understand, and Jung’s staging choices emphasized how both the audience and the characters are included in that journey.
Lusk managed to create characters that were relatable to a range of ages, which helped highlight the idea that love is a challenge for anyone to comprehend. Lusk explored relationships both for the high school students, as well as their single parents. The story-arcs were each heart-wrenching in their own way, whether it was the widowed Anne (Sarah Gavitt-Mendez) searching for someone to replace the hole her husband left in her life, or high school student David (Ben Lauer) trying to come to terms with his sexuality through a relationship with Greg (Drew Paramore).
However, the element that added depth to the story was that Lusk added a variety of definitions of love. Not only did she explore relationships, but she also delved into parenthood. While their kids were finding their own meaning to “love,” Anne and Jack (Zach Brewster-Geisz) were also learning what it meant to be supportive parents in their children’s lives.
The actors themselves showcased immense talent that brought these rich characters to life. Through humor and an innocent quality, Paramore created a Greg that was impossible not to love. Christie Jackson’s portrayal of Emily was sweet, but she also successfully played the struggle she felt between a love for her boyfriend and her loyalty to her best friend. Shane O’Loughlin’s approach to Jack was heartbreaking, and I felt for his character as he dealt with his own struggle between hiding from his own hardships and finding the courage to be happy and “in love.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with an intermission.