BWW Review: A PERMANENT IMAGE Is A Poignant Yet Eye-Opening View On Death
Christmas music was heard through the speakers, and a royal blue light cast its hue onto the stage. It was Christmas Eve in Viola, Idaho when Bo and Ally traipsed into their parents' home - the first time in years - for their father's funeral. As the lights turned from blue to white, I saw white paint splattered across the living room furniture, the dining table and along the walls. I was taken aback, but then I met Carol, who I viewed as psychotic until realizing both she and her late husband Martin (Robert Clenenin) were unable to project their thoughts easily to their two estranged, adult children.
I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into Friday night when I went and saw the opening night of A PERMANENT IMAGE (written by Samuel D. Hunter) at Skiptown Playhouse in Hollywood. I read the small synopsis I found online where it said, "A PERMANENT IMAGE is a darkly comedic look at fraught family dynamics that dares to ask the question, 'Can death actually bring life together?'"
Mind you, I had realized 12 hours prior to curtain it was the fifth anniversary of my grandmother's death. "Was this the best thing sit through?" I asked myself. And you know what? The play may have started off a bit rocky but it blossomed into a beautiful representation of death.
Andrew Loviska portrayed Bo, a photojournalist who was an outspoken, self-absorbed liberal who had just spent the last few years overseas documenting terrorism in the Middle East. A political junkie who reminded me of a few of my own family members with his worldly knowledge, Bo could never be wrong and had created this standoffish outer shell. As A PERMANENT IMAGE progressed, we saw his layers unravel and expose a man crumbling with emotion. Loviska's conviction with each line he delivered and the energy he brought to Bo made him the strongest player of the cast. Despite it being opening night, he stayed composed and produced an incredibly relatable character.
Right after being introduced to Bo, we were overcome by Carol, a seemingly daft yet sprightly woman who couldn't control her liquor intake. Played by Clara York, I truly sat through intermission and wondered if I liked her portrayal. I read York as someone who wasn't sure of her character and used crazy antics to overshadow Carol's serious underlying alcoholism and psychosis. There were times during Act 1 where her voice would squeak on the last syllable of every word, and I'm not sure if she was using this as a way to show Carol's nuttiness or if it was due to opening night jitters. Either way, I found it a bit distracting and mildly irritating.
Despite my above reflections, by the end of Act 2 I had a new sense of who Carol was (and I do believe the interesting inflections were no longer apparent). York used the second half to really developed Carol into a more convincing character and stopped straining for both empathy and sympathy from the audience. The self-loathing pity party finally left Skiptown Playhouse, and I was very appreciative of that.
I didn't think Sasha Venn depicted Ally (the youngest child) poorly, but I did think she was the weakest of the three main actors. I would probably attribute most of the shakiness she had to opening night nerves, but I didn't find it to be distracting at all. What I found lacking in her acting was mostly in Act 1, like York. Maybe she wasn't comfortable with her performance or previous rehearsals, but it showed. Her movements were awkward and her delivery was overshadowed by Loviska's a majority of the play's duration. However, when Act 2 began it was like she received a pep talk in the locker room during halftime at a football game. Like Bo, Ally's layers began to unfurl, and I think as Venn became more emotional and in-tune with Ally, she was able to provide a more powerful performance. At curtain call I saw watery eyes and tears rolling down her face.
Each character's development through A PERMANENT IMAGE was lengthy yet fascinating. Without giving too much of the plot away, Bo and Ally had this blinding quality of self-importance. They were completely wrapped up in themselves and therefore failed to recognize the internal struggle of not only each other but also of their mother. Their humanity was lost up until the last 10 minutes of the play, when reality finally took over.
Director Genah Redding took this play and made it a thought-provoking, compelling, two-hour outlook on death. I walked out of the theater and was unsure how I felt about it for probably another two hours. I sat alone in my apartment with my thoughts and notebook and tried to collect what I had just seen. Death is an inevitable part of life, but it doesn't have to be seen as terrifying. For Carol and Martin, it's a beautiful way to give back to the Earth that bore them.
A PERMANENT IMAGE, presented by Breakdowns Productions, starts at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Skiptown Playhouse (665 N Heliotrope Drive). Tickets are $15 and available by visiting the show's Eventbrite page.
Photo credit: Rob Roy