Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Review: Story Time on the Plains

Everyone’s life is a story. Some are more interesting than others. But when a storyteller can bring you to that time and place, that’s when a story matters, regardless of what it’s about. In Brian Watkins’ expertly crafted My Daughter Keeps Our Daughter, we watch two estranged sisters tell a story of their ailing mother and her pet sheep.
Brian Watkins has created a novel for the stage, beautifully rich in imagery and language. Watkins does a sensational job at painting a vivid picture, allowing our imagination to roam. That being said, perhaps it would have been better served as a short story on the page and audio book. Once Vicky, the mother’s pet sheep, enters the story, the play takes off like a fireball. Prior to that, we’re overwhelmed with set ups and exposition that are not nearly as engaging as the reason why we’re listening to the sisters. Without spoiling, after a nice night where the girls come together to celebrate their mother’s birthday, Vicky innocently startles Sarah, she engages in a wrathfilled lashing that climaxes into commotion. Was the play a metaphor for euthanasia? The overlying story was about two girls caring for their ailing mother. After beating the sheep, the girls did everything in their power to put the sheep out of her misery. Was this a parallel to putting their mother out of her misery as well? With their mother as so much of a burden, did they wish the same fate for her? If it was, it certainly worked! The way the play is devised, the girls are offering direct addresses. But I kept wondering who were these girls were realy talking to and I kept wondering, due to the interrogation style lamps, were they being interrogated? Either way, there was certainly more dramatic action to be played. As sisters Sarah and Hannah respectively, Katherine Folk-Sullivan and Layla Khoshnoudi do a fine job sharing Watkins’ words. Khoshnoudi certainly shines as the younger sister. She was able to flesh out a beautiful character arc. 
Director Danya Taymor offers some wonderful stage pictures especially with her shadow work. Her choreographed moments were in sync with the story. The stillness by Folk-Sullivan and Khoshnoudi in the sheep story was flawless allowing us to hear the tale, however lacked the extra punch since stillness in their monologue delivery happened so often before. In a play that relies so much on the impact of the storyteller, it became tedious to watch nothing happen beyond the clever foreshadow building of the fire pit. Adriano Shaplin does wonders with the soundscape of the Colorado plains, bringing subliminal sounds throughout. However there were some jarring moments of underscoring that pulled attention away from the storytelling, specifically the rock heavy driven composition during the Vicky story. The set by Andrew Diaz seemed incomplete. What was present was perfect, but the stage wanted to filled with dirt and weeds.
My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer is a sensational work of storytelling with a standout performance by Layla Khoshnoudi. But with the lack of theatricality, you could have closed your eyes and listened to the script being read on the radio and still felt the same guttural impact.