There’s something ominous about the severe black stage set, piled here and there with stacks of matte black boxes, that greets you as you enter the performance space at The Living Theatre for this production of George Brant‘s new play, Salvage. You have just descended a stairs from street level and you may as well be in the Underworld. Which is entirely appropriate a setting for this three-handed drama concerned with the shadow the dead cast over the living, their continued pull upon us. Thankfully this ponderous metaphysical note does not dominate the ensuing action, which most convincingly is set in the real world of mundane chores and earth bound perspectives.
We are indeed in a basement, amidst the hoarded possessions of the recently deceased Danny Ashburn, and an approaching storm threatens to engulf everything with flooding. His mother, Roberta, and sister, Kelly, are here going through the contents in a bid to save what might need saving. Roberta is all business, unsentimental in her grief, and only wants to rescue what’s worthy. Kelly, by comparison, is all emotional attachment and pleads that everything might be preserved. There’s something soft-headed and immature in her behavior; she’s yet a child in the body of a woman. Fragile and nervous, she’s no help to Roberta here, and you sense she’s never been otherwise. Enter Amanda, a girlfriend from Danny’s past who broke up with him in order to go away to college. To Roberta, Amanda’s departure was the catalyst for her son’s undoing, undermining his sense of direction in life. A decade after leaving, just as Danny was supposedly regaining his equilibrium, Amanda produced a widely read novel of their thinly disguised relationship, compounding his sense of inadequacy. Subsequently Danny remained at home, something of a recluse, working the same part time job in a record store, until his death in an accident at age forty. Kelly, however, sees Amanda as a gilded presence, a beacon from more hopeful times. In her she glimpses reflections of her lost brother and she won’t let Roberta shortly dismiss her. As well-meaning as she presents herself, Amanda is not all she appears, and secretly is looking for something she needs badly. She’s pretty much a desperate woman. The tension builds, the pot bubbles, and the stormy atmospherics are unleashed amidst the trio.
Brant’s writing is acute and realistic, never descending to sentimentality despite the hovering specters of melodrama and Tennessee Williams’s Glass Menagerie. As with the Williams classic, the characters are each entrapped by their limited perspectives – fantasy for Kelly, bitterness for Roberta, and unacknowledged guilt for Amanda. An award winning playwright (Elephant’s Graveyard) Brant yet manages to discover amidst the defeated wretchedness, a remarkable thread of hope that could possibly free all of the women, if it were grasped. It’s affecting and convincing, and should keep his play in production for some time to come.
The three actresses, Janie Tamarkin (Roberta), Mariah Sage (Kelly), and Rebecka Jones (Amanda), all founders of the company Theatre 4, commissioned the playwright to produce a three woman piece. Each displays a vivid sense of their character’s inner lives and motivations, and these performances are at once fully felt and grounded. Maryna Harrison directs incisively, letting the tensions between the trio command the scene. Theatre 4 have found themselves a winner in Salvage, and one has to hope, beyond shortened runs of the festival circuit, it might find a more enduring space in which to flourish. It’s something of a keeper.
Writer: George Brant
Director: Maryna Harrison
Obsession, seduction, deception, devotion. Three women on the edge, three secrets, one basement. It gets twisted. From an eccentric new voice in American theatre comes this riveting comic-drama about a devoted sister, a desperate mother, and a determined ex.
1h 20m Local New Haven, Connecticut
Staycation: Family Vacation Literary Lane
VENUE #01: The Living Theatre
Thu 16 @ 6 Sat 18 @ 7 Mon 20 @ 7:15 Thu 23 @ 2 Sat 25 @ 2:15