For some, fireflies are a harbinger of summer, a welcome announcement of a longed for arrival. Others might label fireflies as an omen, a warning flash of change or an illumination through the darkness signaling a rebirth. Playwright Donja R. Love leans to the latter with his play titled “Firelies,” a two character dramatic dance that flashes with hope for new beginnings.
It’s the autumn of 1963 and Olivia Grace (Angelique Powell), is pacing the kitchen, anxiously waiting for her husband to return home.
The right Rev. Charles Grace (Michael Lake), a charismatic speaker and vocal civil rights leader is expected anytime now — home for a short stay before heading out again. Dinner is waiting in the oven, the bed is warm and Olivia has finished writing the Reverend’s speech, a speech he will read at the funeral service for four young girls, the latest victims in an unending cycle of racial hatred. At first, the homecoming between the reverend and his wife is joyous and amorous, yet something cloudy and unspoken, hangs heavy in the air. Unexpressed anger is rife and secret betrayals are about to burst forth.
Interesting play, with a more fascinating dramatic device. The playwright cleverly takes what we think is familiar history and characters and attempts to twist it into something more visceral, more urgent, more accessible.
Using characters that we think we know and openly showing their private struggles and wants would make an intriguing drama. But while Love’s dialogue crackles and sparks, the fire doesn’t burn as brightly as the story warrants.
As solid as Love’s script is, it also frustrates as it fluctuates between strong dramatic moments of tension — i.e., the powerful demand of long sought answers to unanswered questions and the unrelenting want of being more than the label of “a woman of the movement,” to moments that wander dangerously close to soap opera with the discovery of lurid betrayals and flirtations of mental illness. While these trigger patches of well crafted dialogue and emotion, they also land somewhat prurient and unnecessary to the story.
Bolstered by two outstanding performances, smart, clean direction by Chris Foster and marvelous design, the play, despite its flaws, ends up a satisfying evening of theater.
Powell is wonderful as the wife Olivia. Her creation of a complex, lost woman, who finds a re-birth in a way not truly expected or wished for, is powerful and full of controlled emotion. Olivia’s final monologue is masterfully performed by Powell, nuanced and balanced offering keen insight into the themes of the play.
Lake does very well capturing the Reverend’s passions and flaws, adroitly embodying a smart and wounded man who keeps all cards close until he can play a winning hand. Lake hits a high note with the delivery of Charles’ final speech — a man who has had his wife write his words, now speaks for himself in his own voice. Well performed and it is a moving moment.
An intriguing and thoughtful new play, Curtain Call does Love’s work a great service. Frank Oliva’s set design impresses as does Lily Fossner’s artful lighting, Alex Dietz-Kest’s soundscape and Beth Ruman’s well-appointed costumes. There is more than a flash of brilliance here.
WHERE: Curtain Call Theater, Latham
Thursdays — 7:30 p.m.
Fridays — 8 p.m.
Saturdays — 8 p.m
Saturday, Jan. 15 — 3 p.m.
Sundays — 3 p.m
MORE INFO: Call 518-877-7529 or visit curtaincalltheatre.com