"Safety Net" at Theatrical Outfit, October 16, 2019 - November 19, 2019
Since the site is not allowing the posting of reviews in its normal place, the backlog of my reviews will be going to the forum
Title: Opioid Drama
Elderly widow Xenia has been injured and has moved in with her daughter Chris, who works on the front lines of the opioid crisis in their Alabama county. Xenia’s son died of an overdose, and she wants to understand why he took drugs. A recovering drug addict moves in with Xenia and Chris to help take care of Xenia. Previously, Xenia received OxyContin from the hospital and she has hidden it away in a bag of flour. She teaches the homeless woman to bake. Connect the dots. They won’t make the picture you may be expecting to see.
Stephanie Polhemus’ set represents the eat-in kitchen and front porch of Chris’ house, with fractured and distressed architectural pieces surrounding it to suggest a house and its surroundings. There are some holiday lights on a telephone phone outside the house, indicating that the play takes place close to Christmas. The overall effect is pretty ugly, and not just in the run-down look of the kitchen. The set is raised about a foot and a half, with the stage floor in front of it used to represent an EMT meeting room and a homeless shantytown for times when Chris is addressing unseen people in those spaces. It’s also used for the final scene, which is supposed to take place in Xenia’s bedroom in the house. This was probably done to allow easy manipulation of a wheelchair, but it’s unnecessarily confusing to the audience in light of how the stage floor has been used previously and indicates a lack of foresight in set design.
Mike Post’s lighting does a fine job of suggesting different times of day, and Jeff Millsaps’ sound design transitions nicely from between-scene effects to onstage effects. Becca Long’s costumes are pretty run-of-the-mill for the stereotypical roles of the characters (an old woman, a uniformed EMT, a homeless person). Janhavi Shivalkar’s props lean heavily on foodstuffs and work quite well. This is not an aesthetically pleasing production, but one that fits the depressing material Daryl Lisa Fazio has brought into view.
Director Karen Robinson has gotten good performances out of her cast. Carolyn Cook brings a lot of ornery life and motherly love to Xenia. Ms. Fazio plays Chris with deep sincerity. Rhyn McLemore Saver invests the homeless friend with deep-seated insecurity and true-hearted compassion in equal measures. None of them can quite shake the artificiality of their roles in presenting three facets of the opioid crisis for dramatic consumption.
"Safety Net" addresses the rural opioid crisis with some interesting insights and perspectives, but doesn’t quite make it all come to life. There’s a little bit of the feel of a lecture as the facts of the crisis are presented. It’s very much "good for you" theatre, with the thesis behind the play taking precedence over the human story it tells.