Whether we grew up in the heart of DC, Manhattan, Evanston, on a midwestern farm, or in the Everglades, we all seemingly arrive at adulthood after spending years on an isolated island, cut off from the real world.
That’s part of the message of this short, but impactful play. It is family-friendly without any puppets, purple dinosaurs, or Disney characters in sight. It also provides a glimpse into the next generation of memorable playwrights, directors, design and management teams, and actors. Nearly everyone involved in this dynamic production either attends, teaches at, or has a solid connection to Northwestern University.
Ever in the Glades, by Laura Schellhardt, emerged during a breakout workshop during the 2016 New Visons/New Voices theater festival at the Kennedy Center. At its core is a question that should have every parent of young adults – from high school into their 20s – pondering and taking to heart.
Are we really that bad as parents, advisers, and genuine, selfless leaders? Maybe. What is this generation of Vietnam-era adults responsibility to their offspring? Have we made the world a better place? Are they better people than we are?
Co-directed by Rives Collins and Allie Woodson, the play is set on a steamy, isolated island in the Florida Everglades. Our protagonists are surrounded by ever-hungry alligators eager for a meal. The alligators are dangerous, but the bigger danger to the play’s five teens may well be the island’s adults – especially their parents.
All the fluid scenes of this fast-paced show are set on what appears to be a large, wood planked dock created by Scenic Designer Andrew Boyce and Assistant Axel Mark. It looks like a great place to crack crabs.
The deck is raised a few feet above the stage floor, and tilted slightly downward, affording the audience a full view. The cast quickly moves the few props in and out during the brief blackouts between scenes.
Above the dock hangs a large tree branch and, dangling from each of the smaller branches thrusting off from it, are strands of Spanish Moss. The stage backdrop is a large screen view of the sky with the sun partially obscured by clouds. From time to time, there are hazy wisps of fog drifting by.
Jessica Neil created the show’s moody lighting, underscored by Noah LaPook’s country-flavored guitar harmonies. Sound Designer Stephen Ptacek enhanced the music and also, to the audience’s amusement, differentiated between the sound of a rock or a piece of food hitting the water when an actor mimed a toss.
The “teens” in the cast, Kori Alston as Z (Johnson), Mariah Copeland as Delia, Robert Cunningham as Elijah, Bryan Eng as Junker G, and Ryan Foreman as Ames Johnson – all college students – inhabit their roles and make them real. Aiding that reality are the casual costumes designed by Amanda Rabito. She, too, is a college student, studying for her M.B.A. in costume design at Northwestern.
Two more college students, Amira Danan as “So-Called Adult” Woman, and Alex Quinones as “So-Called Adult” Man, slither through a myriad of “adult” roles with the ease of pythons. A pal and I argued after the show that the same woman could not be portraying Delia’s prophetic, crystal ball-reading grandma and her viperish mother. She did. Danan also portrayed Elijah’s helicopter mom. Amazing. And, though his boots gave him away, it took a few moments to realize Alex Quinones was playing rodeo with the adult male roles, quickly hopping from one bronco to another.
The play opens with a dreamlike sequence, a prediction really. It’s a manifestation of a sense of yearning by Elijah, the son of a fundamentalist minister and his accomplice-wife, to get off the island with his friends.
Elijah is stiffly dressed in a short-sleeved shirt buttoned to the collar, in contrast to the other teens whose clothing is much more relaxed. He is slowly realizing who he is and needs to get away to fully discover himself. He can quote the bible verbatim and, unlike his pals, speaks in complete, multisyllabic, jargon-free sentences.
Z returns to the island from a stay in a juvenile delinquent facility. He’s come to rescue his younger brother, Ames, from a toxic family environment. Their mother is dead and their father, who was abusive, died a mysterious death. An artist at heart, Z plans to build a boat for the two of them for their escape. His plans soon grow to incorporate the other three.
A friend, Junker G, is the son of a pawn shop owner. His mother abandoned them. While his father drunkenly plays with a rifle, he coldly tells Junker, who is strumming a moldy, old guitar, that he’s a “five stringer in a six-stringer world.” Then the father breaks one of the guitar strings. Junker G goes on to write a song about being a five-stringer.
Delia’s mom, it seems, will sleep with anyone who looks at her twice – including a creepy man who sells candy to children. Delia’s grandmother, who uncannily can predict the future, appears to be the only adult capable of showing real affection. Delia is a math whiz, without being overbearing.
Things heat up as pressure is brought to bear on the five from all sides. Elijah, Ames, and Z are being swept up in plans for a religious “recognition” day ceremony conducted by Elijah’s father, who enjoys the “show biz” aspect of his own preaching.
Z labors to finish the escape vessel while Delia tosses food to the ‘gators so they won’t become predatory. They have to finish and get away before the real predators – the adults – find out.
Running Time: One hour and 15 minutes, with no intermission.
Ever in the Glades runs through Sunday, June 10, 2018, at the Kennedy Center Family Theater – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at 202-467-4600, or purchase them online.