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Posts Tagged ‘andrea frye’

Fireflies
by Donja R. Love
Directed by Andrea Frye
The Black Rep
February 12, 2022

Zahria Moore, Eric Conners
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Black Rep

Fireflies, the latest production from the Black Rep, is a relatively short play, but a lot happens in its 90-minute running time. It’s an insightful character study as well as a look at an important and volatile time in history from a personal perspective. There’s a lot covered in terms of subject matter, as we look at this two character play that centers on a married couple in the midst of their times and various personal revelations. On stage at Wash U’s Hotchner Studio Theatre and featuring two stellar performances, it may only be one act, but it’s an intense one.

The action is confined to Dunsi Dai’s impressively detailed unit set and illuminated by Sean Savoie’s outstanding lighting that gives the play an almost otherworldly effect at times, although the action is grounded in its sense of authenticity. The characters here are a married couple involved in the Civil Rights movement, and the program describes the setting as “somewhere down South, where the sky is on fire”. That fire is both literal and figurative, as Olivia (Zahria Moore) worries about the real threats and violence that consumes the American South, most recently represented by the well-known church bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four young Black girls. Olivia’s husband Charles (Eric Conners) is an activist and preacher who has been speaking at the site, and returns home to find Olivia unsettled. Olivia, who is increasingly and understandably upset by the growing tension and violence, sees and hears visions of bombs in her head, which cause her pain and add to her general sense of doom and fear about the state of the world around her. She’s pregnant, which makes Charles happy, but Olivia is increasingly reluctant to bring a child into the world as it is, considering the racially motivated hatred, discrimination, and violence in the world, which also are a particular threat to Charles considering his high-profile role in the movement and his frequent traveling to speaking engagements. Over the course of the play, we learn more about these two people, as Olivia’s sense of foreboding, and thinly-veiled distrust of Charles as a husband, become more apparent, as do Charles’s controlling tendencies and the general state of their relationship. Both partners have secrets that will be revealed to one another and to the audience, as both their personal lives and the outside world grow more and more uncertain. 

I’m not going to go into much detail about what happens, because the experience of the play and the unfolding of the events are what drive the drama. I will say, though, that it’s  a highly personal story as well as one that reflects a brutal reality of living in uncertain and violent times driven by hatred, racism, and fear. Personal issues of distrust, betrayal, gender roles, and questioning of identity in various ways are dealt with along with the larger, world-impacting issues of the day. Also, even though this play is set in 1963, many of its issues are just as applicable today. It’s a well-realized story with well-drawn characters, brought to life in a the stunning production values that also include detailed costumes by Ellen Minch, and well-paced direction by Andrea Frye. 

The characters make the story here, and they are not only well-written, but are brought to life with vivid intensity by two excellent performers. Moore is impressive in portraying such a complex, multi-layered character as Olivia, who has one kind of life on the surface, but so much inside that she’s tried not to reveal. Moore’s portrayal of this strong but conflicted character packs a lot of emotional power, and her interactions with the also excellent Conners as the demanding but charismatic Charles are intensely charged and meaningful. Both performers rise to the challenge of this heavy, sometimes volatile story as the characters embody so much of the tension and meaning.

Fireflies is another example of dramatic excellence from a consistently first-rate theatre company. The Black Rep is continuing their season with a thought-provoking, highly emotional work that’s sure to have audiences thinking. It’s vividly realized, unsettling at times, confrontational and emotionally challenging, and ultimately well worth seeing. 

Eric Conners, Zahria Moore
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Black Rep

The Black Rep is presenting Fireflies at Washington University’s A. E. Hotchner Studio Theatre until March 6, 2022

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Miss Julie, Clarissa and John
By Mark Clayton Southers
Directed by Andrea Frye
The Black Rep
September 10, 2016

Alicia Reve' Like, Laurie McConnell Photo by Philip Hamer The Black Rep

Alicia Reve’ Like, Laurie McConnell
Photo by Philip Hamer
The Black Rep

Miss Julie, Clarissa and John is the opener for the newest season at the Black Rep. It’s playwright Mark Clayton Southers’s re-imagining of August Strindberg’s classic play Miss Julie, changing the setting to the Southern United States during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. As portrayed in this intense, extremely well-cast production at the Black Rep, tensions are high between servants at a plantation and the owner’s daughter. It’s a sharp, richly characterized portrayal of racial and class tensions as well as personal dynamics between the characters.

On a large Virginia plantation in the 1880s, Clarissa (Alicia Reve’ Like) is a cook for the plantation’s owner. She lives with her fiance’, fellow servant and former slave John (Eric J. Conners). They have an uneasy relationship with the owner’s daughter, Miss Julie (Laurie McConnell), who has lived an entitled existence but struggles to live up to the expectations of her family and society. That uneasiness doesn’t stop her from exerting her considerable influence on John, with whom she engages in a manipulative flirtation. In the midst of this stands Clarissa, who is haunted by her own traumatic upbringing and the disappearance of her beloved mother, who had been a slave at the plantation as well. The mystery of what happened to Clarissa’s mother and the connection between this situation and Miss Julie herself is a key element of the plot, leading to much of the intense drama that builds gradually throughout the play and then explodes in Act 2.

The casting here is key, and all three players are excellent. Like, as Clarissa, is a particular standout as she portrays all the aspects of the character’s emotional journey with raw and intense honesty. Her search for answers regarding her mother, and her wariness of Miss Julie and real but reserved affection for John are all clearly on display here in Like’s richly complex performance. McConnell, as Miss Julie, tackles the difficult role with a great deal of depth, as well. As someone who has learned to exploit her position to get ahead, she could easily be a cardboard villain, but although she’s not particularly sympathetic most of the time, McConnell does an excellent job of conveying Miss Julie’s own complicated history and struggle with emotions of jealousy and the conflicting issues of powerlessness and need to exert power over both Clarissa and John in different ways. As John, Conners ably portrays his attachment and loyalty to Clarissa as well as his combined suspicion of and fascination with Miss Julie. The interactions between all three performers are intensely charged.

The time, place, and tone are well realized in Jim Burwinkel’s authentically detailed set and Jennifer (J. C.) Krajicek’s meticulously detailed costumes. The lighting, designed by Kathy Perkins, effectively augments the drama as well. The Edison Theatre can be a difficult venue in terms of sound, but this production is very clear and audible, and the staging is crisp and energetic.

There are a lot of issues in this play, some overarching and most highly personal. With all three characters having their own particular struggles, as well as the struggle to live in the highly restrictive and oppressive society in which they were born, Miss Julie, Clarissa and John is a highly emotional, at times disturbingly intense production that is sure to make audiences think. It’s an excellent showcase for this superb cast, and a memorable start to what promises to be an exciting season at the Black Rep.

Eric J Conners, Alicia Reve' Like Photo by Phillip Hamer The Black Rep

Eric J Conners, Alicia Reve’ Like
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Black Rep

The Black Rep is presenting Miss Julie, Clarissa and John at Washington University’s Edison Theatre until September 25, 2016.

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