Saturday, June 15, 2013

Phoebe in Winter: A New World Order

"There has to be room for change."

Phoebe in Winter is part of the Summerworks festival being offered by Obie award winning theater company Clubbed Thumb. Of course, when I heard Jeanine Serralles was in it my interest was piqued.

Stylized, Brechtian, and a little absurdist, Phoebe in Winter written by Jen Silverman and directed by Mike Donahue runs through this weekend. 

Phoebe (Chinasa Ogbuagu) is a woman from a war torn country whose three brothers have been killed. Brandishing a gun, she adopts, by force, the brothers of Liam (Bobby Moreno), a man she knew during the war, to replace her brothers. Liam's brothers Jeremiah (Christopher Ryan Grant), the violent bully, and Anther (Chris Myers), the peacemaking middle brother were also soldiers like Liam and have returned from the war, only to find Phoebe and the new world order she has implemented.  Da Creedy (Gerry Bamman), their father, and Boggett (Jeanine Serralles), the maid, are made a part of Phoebe's new enslaved family.

Phoebe cannot change her own past so perhaps she can upend the lives of those who have destroyed her peace. She is fully aware of the artificiality of the construct she has created.  She calls the new brothers "inadequate replacements" and secretly agrees with Jeremiah that they will pretend to not know the truth about each other from their days in the war.  But it seems if she can inflict some pain and discomfort on them, she will have gained something back. 

Even accepting Phoebe's bizarre demands, battles continue to be fought. Family squabbles are exacerbated by Phoebe's presence. Long standing tensions have not been quelled by war. Neither swapping identities, nor the passage of time, nor armed conflict can change the denizens of this household. Not really.  And efforts to remake this world in a new image, in a better one, or in a different one are futile, if the people in it remain fixed in their desires and roles.  And you can try and force the world to change but it will not bend to your ways.  It will change of its own accord.

"We can't come home to what we once left."

And so this "family is the microcosm of the world" and alliances, ambition, honesty, and disappointment mark the telling of this tale.  And these issues are not limited to this living room but the greater battlefield of life.   After it was all said and done the play just felt a little slight in its message.  The direction, lighting and sound design managed to build the tension of the bizarre world being created but the funnier bits fell a little flat at times. 

But in happy news, Jeanine Serralles, as usual, stole the show for me.  Like a firecracker or more particularly here an excitable chipmunk, she brings unbelievable energy to her roles.  But her real gift is her creative imagination.  She has a palpable belief in the fictionalized world created around her.  She gives credibility to imagined settings and she manages to imbue the material with weight and meaning when others seem to skate over their lines.  She gets to show off her range here when Boggett decides she wants to play the role of Liam in Phoebe's world.  When she is auditioning for the role of Liam, she is called upon to look at Phoebe "like a man," you get to see Serralles's great physical comedy and the sincerity of her character's attempt to be masculine.  As Liam, she struts, postures, and threatens as if she is one of the siblings and has been all along.  And when she comes to care for Liam, you can see who she was as Boggett, in her gentle touch.  What can I say.  Watching her work is a pleasure and an education.  And I won't shut up about it. It is always worth seeing the shows she is in.

Also notable in the production, Bobby Moreno was thoughtful as the gentle Liam who loves and cries when no one else does.  Christopher Ryan Grant was strong as the explosive, impatient, and vitriolic Jeremiah. 

 I received a complimentary ticket to the production.

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