TROY — Creative License has taken it on the road.
Housed for several years in the Albany Barn, the theater company found a play that they felt would work as a site specific production. So they moved up the river and set up camp in downtown Troy.
Their production of Jessica Dickey’s Civil War re-enactment/comic modern drama, “Row After Row.” cannot be truly defined as being “environmentally presented” since the action of Dickey’s play takes place in a tavern — and this production is staged in an old downtown department store. But the long closed, dry goods emporium housing this production — Frear’s Troy Cash Bazaar — was built in 1865 and that lends a certain authenticity of era to some of what the play explores.
Unfortunately, this change of locale overwhelms and proves a bit more interesting than Dickey’s script.
Two hardcore Civil War re-enactors, Cal (Aaron Holbritter) and Tom (Ian LaChance), have just spent a long day on the front line at Gettysburg and both are now looking forward to the after-battle ritual of winding down over a couple of beers. As they scoot to their favorite table at their watering hole, they find it already occupied by a stranger named Leah (Casey Polomaine).
Leah is a re-enactor as well, but she may be part of the enemy camp. Tom is friendly to the interloper; Cal less so, but a cease-fire is called long enough to have a couple of rounds, compare notes and question their commitment — to themselves and their ideals.
Despite some moments of intrigue and interest, Dickey’s play lands, ironically, inauthentic. Ben Katagiri has sensitively directed the piece, crafting some truly fine moments, but even with this seasoned and dedicated cast, the evening misfires.
With natural ease, LaChance and Holbritter convince completely as long-time friends. They banter and argue in secret shorthand or code that only the other can read. Both are doing great work here. The comic moments are perfectly set and the emotional ones spark with genuine intensity. Polomaine is very good as a well-armed and worthy opponent, adept at the old strategic ploy to divide and conquer.
Dickey’s theme of embracing one’s own cause and finding the strength to fight for it, cleverly straddles between 1863 battle scenes and the wannabe soldiers of today battling it out over a beer. But the end result is less than satisfying. Gains and losses appear to be equal on both sides — and that’s fine — but the skirmishes and emotional carnage are sloppily manufactured and more importantly, spurious from the start.
However, the most lethal game of scrimmage of the evening is between the actors and the performance space.
The large room with its high vaulted ceiling muffles voices and creates echoes. It takes a bit of time for your ears to adjust and start to decipher the dialogue. Add somewhat dim and unappealing lighting, and you find your attention wandering from the play, to admiring that great iron staircase staring down, looming in front of you. As impressive as the space is, it obscures the wonderful gifts of this little company of artists. And that’s the saddest casualty of all.
‘Row After Row’
WHERE: Creative License, Frear Building, Third and Fulton streets, Troy
WHEN: Through Nov. 11
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: creativelicenseonline.com