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Beached Wails

a Comedy/Drama
by Topher Payne

COMPANY : Centerstage North Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The Art Place - Mountain View
ID# 4545

SHOWING : February 07, 2014 - February 22, 2014



Another jewel from Atlanta’s most wonderfully original playwright! Every year, the Harmon sisters enjoy a getaway from their homes, husbands, and children in Mississippi, and hit the beach in Gulf Shores. This year’s "Sister Trip" is all the more needed -- second-eldest sister Brenda lost her husband a few months ago. But when a hurricane threatens to cut the trip short, Brenda refuses to leave -- the storm shares a name with her late husband, and she’s taking it as a sign to stay. As the storm rages, an unexpected visitor arrives, carefully constructed secrets begin to unravel, a $3000 dress makes an appearance, and a debate on Barbara Hershey’s filmography threatens to tear them apart.

Playwright Topher Payne
Director George Canady
Virginia Harmon Anderson Cheryl Baer
Brenda Harmon Graham Mary Claire Klooster
Randy Bradford John Mcqueary
Dana Harmon Malley Emily Tyrybon
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Beach Blues
by playgoer
Monday, February 10, 2014
Topher Payne’s "Beached Wails" tells the story of four sisters stuck in a beachfront rental as a storm approaches and passes. It’s a dramedy of the sort that a nearby theatregoer could envision as a Lifetime movie. There are lots of issues among the sisters, and they play out and are explained across two acts.

What’s not fully explained is the presence of a fifth character -- a tattooed body parts model from next door who is either the son of the neighbor or some embodiment of the recently dead husband of one of the sisters. (He drives the kind of car the husband drove and dispenses advice far beyond his years.) The ambiguity of this character drives the play to a somewhat confusing conclusion. I would have preferred a different actor in the same costume in the final scene, where he converses with the widow alone, to allow the audience the possibility that the widow is hallucinating.

The acting is fine. Mary Claire Klooster plays the widow (the second oldest sister) and wrings the most out of the role, looking stunning in the $3,000 designer gown she decides to wear to ride out the storm. Emily Tyrybon, as the youngest sister, also tears into her role, giving us the meat and gristle of the character. LeeAnna Lambert, as the next to youngest, plays a somewhat grating Bible-thumper with nice control, letting us know that there are passions seething under the surface. Cheryl Baer, as the oldest sister, keeps a calmer exterior, although we learn late in the play that her life has had a recent wrenching blow she has kept secret.

The playwriting gives us lots of ongoing bits of fun -- the obscenely decorated hat that the widowed sister insists shows children dancing and playing; a wedding present that takes forever to be wrapped and re-wrapped; the unnoticed exits upstairs that have people knocking at a downstairs door, assuming the unseen person is there. The bits of fun are there mostly in the first act; in the second act, things turn more serious as loose ends are wrapped up in a too-long series of one-on-one scenes, many played in semi-darkness (since the power has gone out).

Brad Rudy’s lighting gets a workout in this production, and it’s generally successful. I like the touch of a stairway window lighting up each time lightning occurs. In the darker scenes, lighting seamlessly transitions from one spot to another as a candelabra is moved onstage. The only lighting misstep, I think, is in slowly dimming the lights as the end of one scene approaches. Such a dimming is a time-honored cue to the audience that a scene is ending, but in a show where the lights go out due to a power failure, it’s a bit jarring.

The set, designed by David Shelton, gets the look just right for a 1997 beachfront house, all sea foam green and peach and tile. Even the offstage kitchen is finished, although only brief views of it are seen through the swinging door. The tiered tops of the walls give a nice architectural feel to the set. The furnishings are beach-appropriate, with rattan chairs and a futon sofa bed. Sharon Zinger’s costumes are good, although there seems to be a few too many changes for a play that takes place over one day and night. Kathy Ellsworth’s props work out very well.

Overall, this is a very creditable production. Director George Canady has pulled the cast and crew together to present an entertaining show. While the material may not be as engaging as a couple of the farces Centerstage North did last year, "Beached Wails" is their equal in terms of production values and acting talent. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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