One of the more common phenomena of fringe festivals like ours is to see young actors commit to intensely personal projects, creating a cohesive performance piece that celebrates and reflects on their personal stories. From one show to the next it becomes clear that although their backgrounds couldn’t be more different, their courage and determination remain the same. In each case there is a compelling need to reach out, to propitiate, to reconcile, and above all to survive. It is also an opportunity to introduce their talents to larger audiences, as well as the DC performing arts community as a whole.
Natasha Preston’s Conversations is such an effort; dedicated to the memory of her father, Conversations is one young woman’s story of being raised by a successful dad who doted on his daughter and paid her way through an upper-crust college, but who also prodded her to choose a profession more sensible than – wait for it – the theatre. It is heart-warming, and although it has its dark moments Preston proves herself a survivor, who is now resolved to make her own way—which she does with charm and grace.
Director Clancey Yovanovich has guided Preston’s performance, coordinating some light original music (by Elizabeth Woolf), and some haunting and discreet period sounds as well as a familiar, fondly-remembered Disney tune (nicely assembled by Julia Colpitts, who also designs the lights for this show). Set in the family den, Preston navigates between her father’s desk and his easy chair, reminiscing and talking to his absence in ways that all of us do, who have lost a father too soon. Ian Edwards provides some light choreographic touches, evoking Preston’s girlhood as daddy’s little princess, and beyond.
Although it is by no means the climactic conflict in this play, the big debate between Preston and her father is her choice of a major at Kenyon College, an institution that has produced a number of fine performing artists (actor Paul Newman, to name but one). Her dad’s advice? Skip theatre, and get a History degree. (As an actor and historian myself, I had to chuckle at the idea there was more money in one than the other; Preston chose her strong suit, all the better).
Like Katie Nixon’s 52 Pickup, performing in the same Spider space at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Conversations is an opportunity to bring women’s stories to the stage, and broaden our conversation about family and what really matters. I recommend seeing both Preston and Nixon, precisely because their individual stories are so different—but their commitment to the stage is heart-warmingly similar.
Running Time: 60 minutes (although information on the website lists 70) without intermission