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Ravens & Seagulls

a Drama
by Karla Jennings

COMPANY : Essential Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : West End Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 4612

SHOWING : July 24, 2014 - August 17, 2014



Three women face the final days of their ailing sister’s life in this moving family drama. Emotionally raw and sometimes painfully funny, it’s a transcendent study of love and mortality and survival. One of the co-winners of the 2014 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award.

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Mavens and Me-Girls
by playgoer
Friday, July 25, 2014
Karla Jennings’ "Ravens & Seagulls" seems determined to be big and important and messy. It concerns a family of four sisters in which the youngest sister is dying of cancer. As the audience is trying to figure out who is who, the dying sister is variously referred to as Amy, Mandy, and Amanda. This adds unnecessary confusion at the outset. There are a lot of other points of confusion as the play proceeds. Why, for instance, is it put out without comment that oldest sister Myra, the physician, made jewelry when younger, when it has been established that next-to-youngest sister Joan is a professional jewelry maker and that Joan and Myra have never seemingly gotten along? Why does Joan say in one moment that she’s heading solo to Laos when in the next moment her barely-mentioned husband and son are referred to? There are a number of similar loose ends.

The play consists of numerous short scenes, some approaching vignettes, with a LOT of props and a LOT of scene changes. Kris von Hinezmeyer’s sound design fills in the time and director David Crowe’s blocking makes the scene changes part of the play’s action, but the time delays add to the gloomy, lugubrious feel of the evening. There are moments of comedy, but the play aims for Drama with a capital "D."

The performances are good, but don’t necessarily clarify the relationships among the sisters. Myra (Patricia French) is supposedly the least likeable of the sisters, but Joan (Suzanne Roush) comes across as equally selfish and more emotionally unstable. Liz (Teresa DeBerry) is described as controlling and as doing all the work around the house, but Joan seems to be the control freak and Myra jumps in to get medical equipment ordered. (And is the chair that is delivered supposed to be something therapeutic for her sister, which it obviously is not, or extra seating ordered in response to Myra’s temporary lack of an available seat when guests were present?) The dying Amanda (Jill Perry) convincingly plays a failing cancer victim who seems to get along with everyone, while also showing grace and liveliness in dream sequences.

Three other characters help to populate the play. Liz’s daughter Paige (Sarah Elizabeth Wallis) seems incorporated into the plot primarily to be the recipient of Amanda’s jewelry (more props!). An everyman (Sam Traquina) plays a couple of off-puttingly jokey neighbors and a funeral director. The everywoman character played by Gina Rickicki portrays several friends as well as a dream vision version of Charon, inserting an off-kilter charm into the proceedings.

References are made to "The Odyssey," which Joan is supposedly reading to bond with her son, who has been assigned it in school. Her discussions of it make it clear she has gotten through the entire book, yet when she opens the book to read it, she opens it near the beginning. At the end, we see sister Liz exiting with the book, with no verbal explanation. The literary references appear to be an attempt to add more importance to the script, but it succeeds more strongly in adding confusion. Some of the philosophical discussions in the second act seem equally to be added-on attempts to inflate the importance of the play.

There are a number of affecting moments in the play, but also several that don’t ring true (particularly a drunk scene). The play ends with photos projected on the upstage wall, which is itself covered with framed photographs. (And why were the photos left on the wall and robes left on the hall tree when the preceding scenes repeatedly made the point that Amanda’s house was being cleared of all belongings?) Perhaps the intention is to end with a "feeling" of closure, but it didn’t work for me, if so.

Technically, the show is okay. Harley Gould’s set design is functional, but not attractive, with platforms at left and right and window frames upstage. His lighting is workable, but with a bit of a shake in an outdoor effect in some downstage scenes. Director David Crowe makes full use of the width of the stage in his blocking, so the action moves effectively (when scene changes don’t bring the show’s action to a halt).

There’s a good play somewhere within "Ravens & Seagulls" (whose title comes from an isolated scene in which the birds are contrasted as black omen-squawkers and white cheer-squawkers), but there’s so much going on in so many directions that a cohesive whole can’t form. It’s ambitious, but still seems to need some honing. In its current incarnation, it’s intriguing, but ultimately unsatisfying. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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