Posts Tagged ‘phil wright’

by Eric Berg
Directed by Phil Wright
First Run Theatre
August 11, 2023

Lexy Witcher, Jade Cash, Monica Allen
Photo: First Run Theatre

First Run Theatre is staging a compelling, highly evocative show at the Kranzberg Arts Center. Wayward, by Eric Berg, isn’t entirely original in terms of story, but it does an excellent job of portraying the characters in a specific time, place, and cultural moment in history. It’s also an ideal vehicle for the terrific cast that director Phil Wright has assembled. 

The framing device presents focal character Carol Kwiatkowski (Lexy Witcher) as a middle-aged mother in the mid-1980’s, telling a story to an unnamed and unseen adult child. The bulk of the story, though, takes place in Kansas City, Missouri in 1962, at the “Home for Wayward Girls”, operated by an order of Catholic nuns led by the stern Sister Elizabeth (Monica Allen), and assisted by the younger, more approachable Sister Anne (Jade Cash). The young Carol, pregnant and unmarried, arrives at the home early in the year and is advised of the rules and expectations by the sisters, although she insists she won’t be staying long, as her boyfriend Ronnie should be there to pick her up soon so they can get married and raise their child together. Sister Elizabeth has heard this story before, and is doubtful, but reluctantly allows Carol to delay signing an adoption consent form. Then, Carol is introduced to the other residents of the house, known by nicknames and aliases because they are “encouraged” not to use their real names or share personal information. So, we meet the friendly Country Girl (Mckenna Stroud); the well-read, culturally connected Mayflower (Sarah Vallo); the gruff, cynical Jersey Girl (Amie Bossi); and Maggie (Camryn Ruhl), who is due to give birth any day now. Over the course of the next few months, we see the developing relationships between the residents, as Carol finds her place in the group and the young women share their thoughts and hopes, as well as their contrasting personalities and efforts at friendship within the strict framework of the home’s rules, and the expectations of society around them.

This premise isn’t a new one. I’ve seen other plays and stories that cover similar ground, but what makes this one especially compelling is the characters, and especially the way the playwright portrays their relationships to one another and also to their cultural time and place, with Jackie Kennedy’s televised White House tour being a major focal point, and pop culture references brought up not just for setting, but as a reflection of the characters and society, emphasizing the fact that these are essentially “normal” young women who have found themselves in a situation made difficult by the social expectations and pressures of the time in which they live.  There are a few story threads I wish could be fleshed out a little more, but for the most part the story is engaging and thoughtful.

The evocation of time and place is excellent, and particularly compelling. I believe these characters, and the terrific performers make me believe them all the more. Witcher, as Carol, is an ideal, approachable lead, taking a credible emotional journey and bringing the audience along with her. Cash is also memorable as the initially shy, but increasingly sympathetic Sister Anne. All of the players are strong, from Allen’s stern but multi-dimensional Sister Elizabeth, to Stroud’s kind Country Girl, Vallo’s reserved but also kind Mayflower, Bossi’s defensively snarky Jersey Girl, and Ruhl’s two important and contrasting roles. It’s a cohesive ensemble, bringing much energy and heart to the proceedings. 

The early 1960’s setting is well-established in the plot and characters, and the production values enhance this atmosphere. Brad Slavik’s set is simple but effective, and the costumes are well-suited, although there is no designer listed in the program. There’s also effective lighting by Michelle Zielinski and sound by Jenn Ciavarella. 

Ultimately, Wayward is about a young woman who makes the most of a difficult situation, and the relationships she forms and the lives she affects in the midst of societal pressure and a strict structure that offers markedly different treatment for women vs. men. As a play, it makes the most of a premise that’s been used before, although this show brings a degree of nuance and character that makes the story especially compelling. It’s the best show I’ve seen from First Run, and I highly recommend checking it out.

Camryn Ruhl, Mckenna Stroud, Sarah Vallo, Jade Cash, Amie Bossi, Lexy Witcher
Photo: First Run Theatre

Cast of Wayward
Photo: First Run Theatre

First Run Theatre is presenting Wayward at the Kranzberg Arts Center until August 20, 2023

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