Thursday, January 22, 2015

Review: A Storyteller's Delight

Secrets, secrets are no fun, unless you share with everyone! Every family has some skeletons. Some dark past that stays hidden away until someone gets curious. Set tucked away in the titular state, Brian Watkins’ astoundingly mighty Wyoming brings a formally shattered family together on a day of thanks as a healed wound is ripped open once again. Produced by the hit machine Lesser America, Wyoming is a gripping saga of family and the power of keeping truths away.
Played in the mid 1990s, Brian Watkins’ Wyoming shares the story of the reemergence of a long departed brother who mysteriously returns to town, forcing a family to question a life-defining instance that happened over twenty years earlier. Broken into two distinct parts, the first part of the play is filled with exposition, told through smart theatrical devices. The second part is an action packed dinner where an innocent party game leads to truths being revealed. From a structural standpoint, Wyoming utilizes some pretty standard devices, but the way Watkins boosts them is smart and fresh. From flashbacks to a monologue, the array of storytelling is perfect for this mystery play. Brian Watkins is a wordsmith. His marvelous storytelling talents are on full display as he keeps you glued to the edge of your seats, waiting with bated breath for the ultimate reveal. The moment the word game at dinner begins, each sentence that the family creates leads to such a fantastic reveal.
photo courtesy of Hunter Canning
To bring Wyoming to life, Lesser America has assembled a cast filled with company favorites along with seasoned pros. As April, the curious sister and daughter who hopes to unite the family, Sarah Sokolovic is simply stunning. Sokolovic has an innate ability to blend humor into her performance, all while remaining firm and grounded. Sokolovic is truly the glue that keeps the family and play together. Daniel Abeles and Nate Miller as Tom and Grant respectively have a natural connection as performers that made playing brothers easy. Their tag team act blended well with Sokolovic’s April. Carter Hudson does a great job as the smokey Hank in the flashback scenes. His chemistry with Laura Ramadei’s Maggie is exquisite. While Laura Ramadei does beautiful work as young Maggie, there is a small layer missing as she transitions to play the matriarch. The age dynamic between mother and daughter was lacking. She does transform and finds some beautiful moments in the dinner scene, there was more to be desired.
Watkins’ script is near flawless and Danya Taymor’s direction was equally brilliant. The rollercoaster of momentum was expertly maintained by Taymor. She found the moments when the story needed to take time and when it needed to keep moving. Taymor’s staging throughout was spot on. In the first part, keeping Edward T. Morris’ rundown world stationary allowed Taymor to blend into each scene and memory with ease. By mixing present with past, Masha Tsmiring’s lighting design allowed for some beautiful stage pictures. The soundtrack that Robin Pecknold and Neal Morgan composed fit beautifully into Watkins’ world. It was subtle and served the play well.
Wyoming is one of those simple plays that hits you. It mixes an array of emotions that allow to feel as if you are part of the family. Brian Watkins knows how to tell a story. And with a top notch team surrounding in, his story is even stronger. Wyoming may be the best thing from Lesser America yet.