No garden gnomes were injured in the writing of this review
As part of the 2018 Women’s Voices Theater Festival, Rapid Lemon Productions is presenting the regional premiere of Love is a Blue Tick Hound, a collection of four award-winning 20-minute plays by Audrey Cefaly. The bifurcated run is playing in Baltimore through January 21 before moving to Washington DC for a two-weekend run in February. In his curtain speech, Rapid Lemon’s new artistic director – theatrical polymath Lance Bankerd – noted that all four of the plays are directed by women who have not previously directed in Baltimore. The production provides an auspicious start to Baltimore’s participation in the DC-based Women’s Voices festival.
The first of the four plays, Fin and Euba, reminds me that the author, Audrey Cefaly, self-identifies as a “southern playwright.” Though it addresses arguably the biggest crisis of the human experience – the existential search for meaning, fraught with its attendant hopes and fears – this isn’t a Big Crisis southern play like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s small. Intimate. Understated. The pacing reminds me of summer trips to the South Carolina low country, sitting on the porch swing with an icy glass of sweet tea, languidly staring out at the ocean. Director Donna Ibale elicits fine performances from Carolyn Koch, as Fin, and Lauren Erica Jackson, as Euba. Sneaking a beer and a smoke behind the water’s-edge boarding house where they both room, the BFFs clash about whether the costs of escaping the familiar cage of their small-town, factory job world outweigh the potential rewards of going out into the unknown world at large.
Lee Conderacci directs the next play, which is probably my favorite of the evening. An eye-opening conversation between two long-term restaurant workers, Clean continues the throughline of the quartet of one-acts: the tension between settling for the unfulfilling (and often self-imposed) prison of circumstance and striking out beyond our comfort zones in search of a life of greater purpose and (potentially) inner peace. Actors Betse Lyons, as world-weary server Lina and Justin Johnson, as optimistic dishwasher Roberto, have great onstage chemistry in this charming two-hander.
After a brief intermission, Betse Lyons goes from the stage to the director’s chair for The Gulf. Taking place entirely on a fishing boat, the third play in the Cefaly mini-marathon focuses on yet another pair of seemingly mismatched cohorts. Donna Ibale plays tough-talking Kendra who listens incredulously to her tenderhearted partner, Betty, sweetly portrayed by Aladrian C Wetzel. Betty, too squeamish to catch and clean fish, reads to Kendra from career self-help book What Color is Your Parachute? and makes numerous suggestions about potential career paths Kendra may follow. The dynamic between the two is similar to that of the women in Fin and Euba – one is anxious to embrace an unknown future in a new place and one is not sufficiently motivated to try for a better life. Drama ensues.
The final offering in the series caps the evening on a high note. Easily the funniest and most upbeat of the plays, Stuck features Lee Conderacci as Maggie and Mike Smith as Bob – a couple on their first “real date” after meeting through a dating app and having a brief coffee meeting to check each other out. Hijinx abound as the pair, desperate to take themselves out of the dating pool, go to greater and greater lengths to impress each other. Conderacci’s Maggie is over-the-top, Overly Attached Girlfriend material as she excitedly entertains her suitor. Smith’s comic timing and physical reactions are spot-on, making Bob the source of huge laughs to end out the evening.
The entire design team did a great job converting Theatre Project’s stage into distinct locations for each of the four plays. A couple are particularly noteworthy. Max Garner’s scene-setting soundscape, which layered multiple ambient sounds to create a rich aural tapestry, was particularly on point for Fin and Euba – the ocean waves, crickets, evening birds and more were presented in a subtle enough way to suggest all the elements of the environment without tripping over the easily-crossed line into “we get it, there are birds!” country. And Scenic Designer Reese Siedlecki created complex, movable set pieces that allowed the ensemble to quickly change from one world to another without sacrificing the little details that make a set realistic.
The plays were a little inconsistent with how they landed with me, but all were well-conceived and well-executed, as one would expect from a Rapid Lemon production. Baltimoreans, make your way to midtown for this sampler of Audrey Cefaly duets; it’s a tasting menu of smart, funny, and thought-provoking theater, all in a one-stop shop at Baltimore Theatre Project. But do it this coming weekend or you’re going to have to drive to DC for it.
Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission.
Love is a Blue Tick Hound plays through Sunday, January 21, 2018 at Baltimore Theatre Project – 45 West Preston Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 752-8558, or purchase them online.
Love is a Blue Tick Hound will subsequently play from February 9-17, 2018 at Logan Fringe Arts Space: Trinidad Theatre – 1358 Florida Avenue NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets to the DC performances, purchase them online here.