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Carapace

a World Premiere
CATEGORY :
by David Mitchell Robinson

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Hertz Stage [WEBSITE]
ID# 3989

SHOWING : February 11, 2011 - March 06, 2011

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Winner! 2010 Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition!

Jeff is a man on a mission to do right by his daughter on her 23rd birthday. But first, he has to do a few things. Figure out where his daughter lives, for starters. Then, find an open pet store. Then, navigate his Oldsmobile past the wrecked 35W Bridge. And probably, yes, stop for a drink. Just one. This time.

A portrait of a flawed man on a collision course with fate one cold Minneapolis winter night, Carapace is the latest winner of the Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition, identifying the best new American playwrights and bringing their work to Atlanta.


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REVIEWS

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Too Much Unsaid
by Dedalus
Monday, April 11, 2011
3.5
It’s a given that in any family, intense emotions are often hidden behind a shell of silence or sarcasm. Things best aired are left unsaid, creating small cracks that eventually build to a point of catastrophic collapse.

In David Mitchell Robinson’s “Carapace,” the 2010 Kandeda Award winner now getting its premiere production on the Alliance Hertz Theatre stage, a father wants to make amends with his grown daughter, but all that was left unsaid between them leaves a canyon over which any possible bridge has fallen beyond repair.

I find myself a bit ambivalent about this piece. Although I really appreciate Mr. Robinson’s flair for metaphor and dialogue and his ability to create compelling characters with a few short phrases of dialogue, I’m also a little put off by his “too much unsaid” script and by his melodramatic ending. In a nutshell, we see a father and daughter at odds, but we have no idea (apart from a generic “he’s an alcoholic” theme) of the specifics that led to that rift. Yes, we’re shown a scene where the father is too drunk to really tell his daughter how he feels, but her reaction is way out of proportion to the slight. Obviously SOMETHING heinous happened, and we don’t know what that is.

I suspect this was Mr. Robinson’s point, that he wanted to show us a man trying to bridge a gap, and that, for all intents and purposes, the genesis of that gap is just not relevant. The metaphor of the collapsed bridge in Minneapolis in 2007 suggests that small cracks and small neglects can build to a catastrophic breakdown, and it’s a perfectly valid metaphor. But, in the final analysis, people aren’t bridges (or metaphors), and leaving too much unsaid can be a little unsatisfying. Or, it could just be that the things that ARE said in no way prepare us for the melodrama that is to come.

It’s 2007 in Minneapolis, and Jeff’s daughter Margo is about to celebrate her 23rd birthday. He has been estranged from her for three years, due to his chronic alcoholism, and … well, something left unsaid. He really wants to make amends, so he plans to “surprise” her with a visit and a birthday gift, despite the fact that he doesn’t know where she lives, and the recent bridge collapse has made navigation around town difficult. He fortifies himself with a beer with an acquaintance (big mistake). He buys a turtle (NOT a tortoise) at a pet store, picks up a broken-down old terrarium at his ex-wife’s house, and finds his way to Margo’s house. In a final confrontation that simply crackles with tension and long-held fears and resentments, father and daughter find that the gulf between them is [description deleted by the spoiler police].

The play is structured as a monologue with flashbacks and digressions, so we get to see Jeff at different levels of sobriety and Margo as both a young teenager and a grown woman. Most of the scenes involve Jeff interacting with a single character (Mark Kincaid as an old drinking buddy, Paul Hester as the half-zonked pet shop salesman, Joe Knezevich as Jeff’s ex-wife’s brother, and Tony Larkin as Margo’s too-nice boy friend).

Jeff’s car is the central feature of the sparse set, and I liked how it was able to convert to different furnishings in different locales. Broken abutments and beams convert to doors and shelves and closets, and a wrap-around brightly-lit cyclorama gives the whole thing a shadow-play feel that underscores the nature of Jeff’s quest.)

Bethany Anne Lind brings to Margo a vulnerability that is positively heartbreaking. Afflicted with a terrible stutter, she has trouble expressing anything, let alone the roots of the rift with her father. Playing Margo at various ages allows her to show us how the stutter fades and grows, and, the fact that it is almost completely gone after her three-year estrangement is a telling point indeed. Ms. Lind is an Atlanta treasure, and this performance is one of her best.

But it’s David de Vries’ Jeff who carries the weight of this story. On stage for the entire 100 minutes of the play, he is alternately charming, pitiful, and irritating. There’s a snarky joke here that, for a play about miscommunications and silences, he talks a lot. But, then that’s the point, isn’t it? He tells us enough that we understand what he’s doing, but he leaves it for us to infer why he’s doing it now, and why he’s finding it so difficult to stay sober. There is one flashback moment during which he is silent when he needs to be talking, needs to be reaching out, and his expression of frustration at not being able to say the words Margo needs to hear is a story all its own.

Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary defines “carapace” as “a bony or chitinous case or shield covering the back or part of the back of an animal (as a turtle or crab)” or as “a protective, decorative, or disguising shell.” The metaphor, of course, is that Margo’s stuttering is the shell behind which she hides from the effects of her father’s drinking. During their final confrontation, it’s positively devastating to watch her withdraw back into that shell.

If the play had ended there, it would have been a emotionally charged play about mis-communication and the ties that tear families apart. But, by adding a melodramatic coda, Mr. Robinson has made it instead a been-there seen-that story about the pains of alcoholism.

It’s a coda that would have been better left unsaid.

-- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy@aol.com)


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