BWW Review: ELEMENO PEA from Mind's Eye Theatre Company
Every time I enter a theatre and take my seat, I hope for the best. To be critical is to express disappointment that that hope was not realized. I'm happy to say that the return of this play, which debuted at the 2011 Humana Festival of New American Plays, was a genuine pleasure on a number of levels.
Mind's Eye Theatre has specialized in musicals, with an occasional contemporary comedy, but with Elemeno Pea, they take a couple of crucial steps in their development. Producer and co-founder Jeff Ketterman steps up to direct with assurance and a sensitive attention to performance, eliciting thoughtful work from his cast. He also has designed and built a beautiful set that is nearly close to perfect.
He starts with good writing. Molly Smith Metzler's script examines the conflict between an intelligent working-class woman and a self-absorbed dilettante joyously enveloped in privilege. The dialogue is sharp and resonant with detail that reveals character and background. A fast-paced comedy filled with surprise that slyly develops a rising pathos, the play leaves us thinking very differently about these women than we expected to.
Simone (Susan Bramer) works as Personal Assistant for Michaela Kell (Leila Toba), a spoiled trophy wife to a wealthy man who owns a ludicrously large, multiple dwelling, beachfront estate on Martha's Vineyard. While the couple is away, Simone hosts her older sister, Devon (Carrie Cook Ketterman) for the weekend in the guesthouse. Simone is so enamored of her situation that she seems oblivious to the contempt expressed by the one member of the staff that remains, Jos-B, (Phillip Rivera), whose nickname comes from the fact that he is the second Jose hired. The condescension illustrates how far Simone has strayed from her working-class roots, and she speaks glowingly of how her job is really more like being a member of the family. Rounding out the profile is her May-December relationship with the unctuous Ethan (Greg Collier), a friend of Michaela and her husband who exemplifies the cavalier worst of white privilege.
A rupture in Michaela's marriage prompts her return and it doesn't take long for Devon and Michaela to butt heads. At times it seems as if they are fighting over Simone's soul, yet the exchange also reveals painful memories for both women.
Greg Collier and Philip Rivera nicely draw a contrast in the male personalities that underscores the central theme, but the play belongs to the three women, and their work here is exemplary. Susan Bramer is a welcome new face on the Louisville theatre scene, and she makes sense of Simone's reckless desire to escape and the middle ground she occupies between Devon and Michaela.
Carrie Cook Ketterman enters with so much outsize bravado that she threatens to overwhelm the action, but it immediately endears Devon to the audience. She quickly balances the character with subtlety and finds the right mixture of concern and righteousness in the relationship with Simone. Leila Toba wears Michaela's fatuous narcissism with ease, giving bite to the hypocrisy and playing the confrontations with the indomitable will of someone about to lose everything she holds dear. This may very well be the best work I have seen from these two actors.
The temptation to tie the themes of Elemeno Pea to today's social and political climate is easy to give in to, but the greater point is that the most impactful stories often reflect the struggle between classes that has characterized American culture from the beginning. Perhaps the inevitable result of The Melting Pot society is that the hard climb up from the lower depths threatens to make dilettantes of us all.
September 15, 16, 17, 22, & 23 @ 7:30 pm
September 24 @ 2 pm
Tickets are $19 and are available through the Kentucky Center for the Arts box office. To purchase, copy and paste the following URL into your browser:
Or you can save the online fees and purchase in person at the box office drive-thru at 501 W Main Street, Louisville, KY.
Minds Eye Theatre
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40204