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Built to Float

a Drama
by Rachel Graf Evans

COMPANY : Essential Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : West End Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 5323

SHOWING : July 26, 2018 - August 25, 2018



This is the story of Tess, who quietly crusades to keep it together, working full time as a phlebotomist and caring for her ailing mother Marjorie, who likes to harp on Tess’s dormant dreams of becoming a doctor. Suddenly, her sister Roz shows back up from rehab, pledging high expectations and a clean slate. When stranger William, an echo of their deceased father, arrives in town with a tempting new offer of employment, Tess tries her best to keep everyone from going underwater. Everyone else, anyway.

Director Peter Hardy
Production Manager/TD Elisabeth Cooper
Marjorie Suzanne Roush
Roz Heather Schroeder
William Alex Van
Tess Rachel Wansker
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Barely Buoyant
by playgoer
Thursday, August 23, 2018
Nervous, mousey Tess (Rachel Wansker) works in a clinic as a phlebotomist after dropping out of pre-med to care for her ailing mother (Suzanne Roush). One day, in walks William (Alex Van), the spitting image of her abusive father, asking for information on child health care for his two nephews, who are about to come live with him. Thus Rachel Graf Evans sets up the dynamic of "Built to Float."

The first scene is of Tess in a pool of dappled blue light, under Harley Gould’s effective lighting design and Dan Bauman’s environmental sound design. She appears to be floating mid-water as she speaks a short monologue. The final monologue of the play shows her in the same position, giving full explanation of the title of the work.

Josh Oberlander-Denny’s set design consists of four separate areas: a clinic front desk and waiting room stage right; a kitchen with sink and counter, refrigerator, table and chairs center; a stairway entry up left; and (initially) a park bench down left. For the opening of the second act, a couple of folding garden chairs are set up on the down center lip of the playing area to provide a fifth location. The floor of the space is painted as if wood, blending into black and white tiles in the kitchen area. Walls contain only the barest decorations. Director Peter Hardy makes full use of the space in his blocking, although there may be limited sightlines of what happens on the floor for people seated in the back rows.

Jane Kroessig’s costumes are unremarkable, which is unremarkable and perfectly fine for a modern-day play that takes place in the workaday world. Courtney Loner’s props are extensive and get quite a workout.

The play takes quite a while to get going. Tess and William’s initial encounter is painfully awkward, and the following scene of Tess’ testy conversation with her mother is chock-a-block full of exposition. With the arrival of Tess’ sister Roz (Heather Schroeder), things pick up a bit. Roz is a recovering addict, come to mend fences, but Tess is having none of it. The mother’s actions during this scene have an "off" feel to them, letting us know that not everything is as it may appear on the surface. The ending of the first act is explosive, making an intermission essential to reset the stage.

The second act starts with an energetic scene between William and Roz that fills in a lot of back story. Subsequent action veers into the surreal, as Tess starts coming apart at the seams. While the first act was slow to start, the second act flies along.

Performances are all good, although Ms. Wansker’s hang-dog demeanor gets a bit wearying (from the script and direction more than from the actress). Mr. Van distinguishes two dissimilar characters with good acting choices, and Ms. Roush gives a nice edge to her character. Ms. Schroeder is engaging and natural throughout. After a slow, inauspicious beginning, the play finally catches fire, with the watery final scene leaving it smoldering with an ember of glimmering hope. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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