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Monday, March 30, 2015

Margin Notes: The Liquid Plain

Kristolyn Lloyd and Ito Aghayere as
Adjua and Dembi. Photo by Joan Marcus.
The Liquid Plain

Seen on: Wednesday, 3/25/15.
My grade: B-. Excellent cast, beautiful design, somewhat bewildering story, but Naomi Wallace's gift with language and character relationships ran strongly through this.

Plot and Background
Bristol, Rhode Island, "A possible 1791." Escaped slaves Adjua and Dembi hide out on a dock, mending sails and ransacking drowned corpses, saving money towards passage back to Africa. They rescue a nearly drowned amnesiac, Cranston, who brings more trouble than anticipated. Act Two takes place in 1837 when Adjua's child Bristol returns to America in search of the man who killed her aunt. This play was originally commissioned in 2013 for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for their American Revolutions cycle, with Kwame Kwei-Armah. It is the second play in Naomi Wallace's season as one of Signature's resident playwrights.

What I Knew Beforehand
I've read a number of Naomi Wallace's plays (in fact, I used a monologue from The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek when I was auditioning for colleges 300 years ago), and I'd seen her last offering at Signature, And I and Silence.

Thoughts:

Play: It's rather a strange story, if only because the narrative we thought we were tracking in Act One is largely abandoned in Act Two; or at the least, it's picked up many years later when nearly all the characters we knew are long dead. And then there's the randomness of William Blake inhabiting corpses and losing appendages. It's a strange play. But for all that, it's so very much a Naomi Wallace play, that once you adjust to how she tells stories, how she lets us into her characters, it all seems just how things are in the world. She's always had such a gift for language, for finding a strange and yet entirely truthful way for her characters to express themselves, that even the absurd and fantastical seem completely grounded. There's no one else quite like her, and I'm glad Signature has chosen her for residency so I can finally see her work live in New York.

Cast: The standouts for me were Kristolyn Lloyd and Ito Aghayere as Adjua and Dembi, who brought such humanity and strength to their performances that their presence was felt even in their absence. Their relationship was the heart of the piece, and it, along with Tara A. Nicholas's Shadow who haunted the evening, carried through the entire evening. LisaGay Hamilton had a harder road ahead of her, as Bristol served more as a figure of vengeance and exposition than a character with her own drive, but she had wonderful dignity and strength. Johnny Ramey's Liverpool Joe and Robert Hogan's James De Wolfe were rather one-note in delivery and dynamic, but the rest of the cast performed well.

Design: Riccardo Hernandez's set, a dilapidated dock that can transform to a mansion, a ship, a tavern, a dreamscape, was a wonderful combination of absolute groundedness and floating fantasy. Thom Weaver's lighting, shifting from bright openness of day to shafts in the dark, to tight frames, helped shape the set and reframe the space and our perceptions (and included some fun play with the traveling worm of vengeance, an image that makes sense if you saw the play and none if you didn't). Paul Tazewell's costumes were fantastic in their detail and levels of distress and deterioration.

***

Running: Recently playing at Signature Theatre - Opened March 8, 2015. Closed: March 29, 2015
Category: straight play
Length: 2 hours, 15 minutes, including intermission.

Creative Team

Playwright: Naomi Wallace
Director: Kwame Kwei-Armah
Designers:  (Choreography), Riccardo Hernandez (Set), Paul Tazewell (Costume), Thom Weaver (Lighting), Shane Rettig (Sound and Original Music), Alex Koch (Projections), Cookie Jordan (Wig, Hair, and Make-Up), UnkleDave's Fight-House (Fight Direction).
Cast: Ito Aghayere, LisaGay Hamilton, Robert Hogan, Michael Izquierdo, Kristolyn Lloyd, Kari Miller, Tuck Milligan, Tara A. Nicolas, Johnny Ramey, Lance Roberts.

LisaGay Hamilton and Karl Miller as Bristol and William Blake.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

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