Saturday, February 17, 2018

Review: Family Tea Time

By Michael Block

Some stories seem just too good to be true. When you hear them you might just be blown away to the point you need to put it to paper and share it with a grander audience. Such is the case in Jennifer Fell Hayes’ Rosemary and Time.
Rosemary works in an infirmary in a local school. Hilda works under her, cleaning and doing odd jobs here and there. After a conversation about a traumatic experience, Rosemary discovers that the two happen to be long lost sisters separated after the accident. Rosemary and Time is inspired by a true story about a woman grappling with her past in her present. Jennifer Fell Hayes has written a piece that is deeply rooted in truth. While we may not know exactly where her imagination may have gone and what is pulled from the tale she was told, there is reality within. The drama unfolds slowly but surely. No matter what, Rosemary and Time is an interesting story, but it is severely lacking stakes. And it just may mean it could serve better in a different medium. There is an inherent cinematic quality to the story. The pacing is ripe for the screen. There’s an intimacy to this story, and it comes through by the way Rosemary keeps things to herself. We often see her protect herself by suppressing her memories and haunts. With the exposition being pushed away, it may be hard to relate and empathize without full knowledge of what we are witnessing Rosemary experience. There’s always a way to keep the audience on edge, but when everything floods in at the end, we’ve already been pushed aside. Perhaps the easiest of fix is incorporating the fire memory and Ruby’s monologue sooner. Sometimes it’s ok for the audience to know something before the other characters. Fell Hayes has meat to her text, but it often gets surrounded by fluff. Removing some of the excess and paring down could help perhaps heighten the stakes. And with a script so reliant on props, especially those tea time moments where nothing new emerges, the story can take on the focus it deserves.
photo by Gerry Goodstein
Director Kathy Gail MacGowen takes Rosemary and Time and focuses on the importance of relationships. And this is essential for this play to work. Whether they are strangers of present but blood of past, we need to believe it. We need to believe the struggle of mother and daughter, in the various versions we witness it. MacGowen has taken the time to pull out the nuances from the script and fully realize them with her company. The realistic quality to Fell Hayes’ writing allowed MacGowen to find truthful moments. When bits felt forced in the text, you could tell there was a struggle to make it work. The sets and costumes were designed by An-Lin Dauber. Dauber’s costumes had a timeless quality to it. Her set, featured two-sided seating which created a very linear direction for MacGowen. With various locations to portray, the scenic pieces served in various locales, which thankfully, was not too distracting once the conceit continued. Kia Rogers’ lighting design and Megan Culley’s sound design were integral to the memories for Rosemary. While it may have to due with the staging on this particular set, the memories wanted to be technically cleaner. At times, it was very jarring, but not necessarily a snap. The classical soundscape that swelled in occasionally from scene to scene was the right mood for this play. The Beatles? Sadly, not too much.
The character of Rosemary is challenging. She’s put through the emotional ringer. Kate Grimes does a sensational job. She finds levels of sensations to play. Her portrayal is honest and raw. Virginia Roncetti as Hilda often found herself playing the subservient role, but when she finally snaps back at Julie, Roncetti was at her finest. The tender moment Hilda and Julie share was quite a remarkable shift in the play, and Roncetti and Mary Katharine Harris, who played Julie, did well.
Rosemary and Time is a play of great potential. Jennifer Fell Hayes was right, there is a story. But it needs some time before Rosemary’s tale is ready again. A bit of finessing and a little less tea might do the trick.