There is nothing like stripping away layers from the theatrical experience to discover the essence of artistry, and that’s what the audio format does. Laughter in the Shadow of the Trees features three of the finest actors in the metro region — David Bryan Jackson and Sarah Marshall as the parents Martin and Felicia, and Holly Twyford as daughter Jan — award-winning performers all. In this memory play, Jan recalls poignant moments from her interactions with her parents as they all struggle with Martin’s decline with Alzheimer’s. Even dealing with difficult subject matter, it’s still a treat to hear these stellar actors present their masterful characterizations.
At onset, Martin quibbles with wife, Felicia, lapsing into and out of a conversation about literature with his background as a retired former literary critic. They banter back and forth easily with rhythms honed through the years. But after a few moments, Martin’s tone abruptly changes and you can tell something’s not quite right. He becomes more belligerent and cross while his wife tries to maintain a bubbly surface veneer. Once their daughter Jan enters, and Dad goes from trying to remember who she is to recalling her exact birth weight and length, it’s obvious that he draws on compartmentalized memory while fully functioning.
Once Martin loudly announces his exit to use the restroom, without assistance, Jan and her Mom have some breathing room to talk. Their exchange is a surprisingly refreshing turn to focus on the daughter instead of Martin’s ongoing deterioration. As Jan confides to her mom about her pending unraveling marriage, they broach issues of love: How do you know it’s there? Is there love without emotional support? What happens when a disease has ravished the actions and reactions of a loved one? Is love still there? What do you hold on to for comfort when your loved one doesn’t know you or, worse, becomes emotionally and/or physically abusive fighting through pain and frustration?
The subtitle of Laughter in the Shadow of the Trees indicates it’s about trees, shadows, family, memories, mortality. The actors cover all of these areas with grace and fortitude. Twyford as Jan has a steadfast clarity in her tone and voice. She captures Jan’s emotional strength when sharing with Martin that her marriage is dissolving, only to get nonsensical reactions from him. The message doesn’t register, and Jan has to make do with that. As wife/mother Felicia, Sarah Marshall pivots from concern for her daughter to absorbing the verbal assaults from her beloved husband, who can recite whole stanzas of Blake’s “The Garden of Love” from memory only to tumble from exhilaration into mental, emotional chaos. David Bryan Jackson beautifully captures the despair when memories are there — he just …can’t …access them. Stephen Jarrett’s direction assures a calm focus covering the ebb and flow of memory, turmoil, recall, and family devotion with a tender touch.
I caught last year’s playful audio production of Chekhov’s The Marriage Proposal, also directed by Stephen Jarrett, who apparently came across Laughter while reading other works by the playwright, Prideaux. As noted in the announcement, this performance of Laughter—originally a BBC radio play—is believed to be its U.S. premiere. The timing to capture and witness this touching audio experience couldn’t be better.
Running Time: About 40 minutes.
The Edge of the Universe Players 2 was founded in 2013 with the goal of producing plays with both high entertainment value and big meanings that transcend particular ages and cultures. The organization continues in the belief that theater can change some part of the human family toward a more bearable, insightful, hopeful, or self-determining state.
ARTISTIC & CREATIVE TEAM
Playwright: James Prideaux
Director: Stephen Jarrett
Featuring: Holly Twyford, Sarah Marshall, David Bryan Jackson
Sound Design and Audio: David Bryan Jackson
The Edge of the Universe Players 2 to present audio play #2
Levity and pleasure abound in ‘Marriage Proposal’ audio farce review by David Siegel