BWW Review: Genuine Voices and Situations in Portland Stage's STRING AROUND MY FINGER
Portland Stage's latest production is an engaging staging of Brenda Withers' new play, String Around My Finger, which had won the 2015 Clauder Competition and then been developed through the theatre's Little Festival of the Unexpected. The four-character play, set entirely in a hospital where a young couple finds themselves coping with the miscarriage of their child, resonates with a genuineness of dialogue, character and situation.
Withers demonstrates a keen ear for finding the irony and oddity in the routine, and she is able to fashion a prismic drama from every day occurrences. She possesses a gift for turning what could be banal conversation into eloquent riffs, stretching the boundaries of image and association to the edge of the absurd at times and maintaining a dramatic tension throughout. Her four characters -the engaged couple, Kip and Emma, Lisa, Kip's sister, and Dave, a sardonic physician's assistant - are all empathetic, though it is the two supporting roles of Lisa and Dave that marshal her most original writing.
Sally Wood directs with a fine-tuned sense of pacing - building effectively to the two-character clashes and relaxing into the wordless space between these more intense moments. She draws kinetic performances from her cast and keeps the play striding forward. Anita Stewart's cleverly designed set with its sliding panels to reconfigure various hospital locales (moved with choreographic precision by the on-stage crew) goes a long way to maintaining the flow of the piece, while Bryon Winn bathes the stage in an unmistakable white hospital light that suggests the sterile anonymity of the place. Loren Shaw contributes the simple but effective costumes, while Karin Graybash provides the sound design which includes a number of iconic Frank Sinatra tunes as metaphors to the action.
Marjolaine Whittlesey makes a sympathetic, if a little bland, Emma with Chris Davis her distraught fiancé. Perhaps it is their dialogue, but this critic could not help but feel that, except for the final scene, their tragedy was more surface than deep. Danielle Slavick as Kip's quintessential type-A sister, turns in a virtuoso performance - wired and electric, bizarre and funny, and peppered with moments of vulnerability. David Mason gives an equally intriguing portrait of Dave - a man with a cryptic, deadpan, seemingly matter-of-fact exterior that masks a long ago trauma. Lisa Stathoplos makes a brief but colorful appearance as the dotty Mrs. Rizzo, who love for music and Sinatra adds a poetic twist to the play.
Portland Stage has a long commitment to discovering, nurturing, and producing new works and has had numerous successes in this arena - notably Monica Wood's Papermaker a few years ago and now Brenda Withers touching String Around My Finger. What these two have in common is a disarming ability to voice the precious admixture of laugher and sadness that human beings experience in grappling with the twists and turns of life's journey.
Photos courtesy of Portland Stage
String Around My Finger runs from April 4-23 at Portland Stage, 25 Forest Ave., Portland, ME 207-774-0465 www.portlandstage.org