BWW Review: Rachel Agee's Noteworthy Directorial Debut with Actors Bridge's KODACHROME
Life, as we know it, happens all around us in an amazing cavalcade of events that at once might seem inconsequential yet their importance becomes evident with time and experience. That's the message of Kodachrome, Adam Szymkowicz's lovely and elegiac play now onstage at the Actors Bridge Studio through July 28, in a warmly sentimental and sweet, yet unmistakably moving and impactful, production under the direction of Rachel Agee, who makes her professional directorial debut in the process.
Agee - as beloved an actor as can be found on any Tennessee stage - makes an impressive debut with Kodachrome, her vision brought to life with a certain audacity by a seven-person ensemble who seem thoroughly committed to not only acting their roles, but more importantly to conveying the deeper meaning found in the story told by Szymkowicz's evocative script.
In fact, the power of Szymkowicz's literature may be somewhat surprising: Kodachrome weaves together the stories of the assorted characters who comprise the citizenry of a bucolic small town, the type of which dots the American landscape to provide respite from the craziness and contrivances of contemporary life. The characters and their lives won't be chronicled in history books, nor reported on during a 24/7 cable news cycle or, perhaps, even recalled by neighbors some 50 years hence. Yet their stories are important and essential - like yours, like mine, like the couple sitting across from you in a coffee shop, the man sitting behind you on the bus or the woman picking up her dry cleaning and complaining about the spot that remains on her favorite blouse. As Szymkowicz avers in his play, which is both elegant and eloquent in its almost spare and deceptively simple way, every life has deeper meaning beyond the obvious.
Like a latter day Our Town, another deceptively complex and richly woven tale of life in a small town, the power of the events that transpire onstage in Kodachrome is cumulative. As we get to know the townspeople - we are led through our tour of the town's high points and low lights by its "unofficial photographer," played with unerring confidence and quiet grace by Mary Claire Reynolds, who introduces us to the various characters, offering insights into their individual stories and explaining the connections that are sometimes startling, oftentimes comforting and occasionally predictable.
Their connections, however tenuous or fleeting, help to knit together the group as a kind of family in a way that we have all experienced at one time or another. Szymkowicz's deft way of handling the interpersonal threads that bring them together ensures that his Kodachrome carries with it a certain emotional gravitas that builds to the play's final, climactic and genuinely moving moments. It may come upon you unawares, but be prepared: the play's impact will leave a handprint on your heart in much the same way that Thornton Wilders' fine folks of Grovers Corners did for first time 81 years ago (or even Galinda and Elphie first did in Wicked some 16 years back).
Presented amid the intimate confines of the Actors Bridge Studio space at Nashville's Darkhorse Theatre, director Agee and her fine ensemble of actors bring Kodachrome to life with an unmistakable immediacy that guarantees it will touch the heart of every audience member, whether a soft-hearted sentimental type or a hardened cynic loath to admit such entertainment affects you. Kodachrome, what with its sweetly emotional message that speaks of universal themes, is likely to provoke further consideration of life (and all manner of things) long past the final scene - and isn't that what we hope for every time we settle back into our seats in a darkened theater?
Scenic designer Paul Gatrell provides the lovely physical setting that comprises the various environs in the smalltown where Kodachrome takes place and lighting designer Richard Davis illuminates the space with color and light to evoke even more deeply held emotions. Colleen Garatoni's costumes help to establish each of the characters (Reynolds' exquisite costume, particularly, helps to define who she is with its stunning neutrals) and provides layers of meaning to each person, both literally and figuratively. Alex Drinnen's picture perfect projections also add to the ambience of the piece with understated power.
Agee's direction is fluid and almost cinematic in its pacing, with each scene dovetailing perfectly into the one that comes before or after, and her connection to her actors in obvious in the almost lyrical way in which they interact with one another with a depth of feeling that radiates authenticity. That comes from trust between a director and her cast and that spills over into the relationship between the company and its audience - truly a harbinger of more wonderful things to come from Agee, whether she's offstage in a director's chair or squarely in the glare of the spotlight.
Reynolds' performance as the play's central figure is predicated on her inherent warmth and the startling confidence she exudes whether she's interacting with other characters or breaking the so-called fourth wall to talk to the audience. Likewise, she is surrounded by a coterie of actors - Barry Kennedy Jr., CJ Tucker, Nyazia Martin, Ani Pareek, Hayley Jo Pellis and Hanna Lipkind - who put the whole of their talents on display in ways that are natural and unfettered. The fact that Reynolds, Kennedy, Pareek and Lipkind are new faces to me is especially heartening and gratifying.
Witnessing Belmont University theater alums Martin and Pellis onstage again is a welcoming encounter. Both young women have tremendous stage presence and their abilities to morph into whatever character they are assigned is testimony to their skill and training.
But once again it is CJ Tucker and the amazing manner in which she so effectively becomes one character after another that will ensure your fond recollections of Kodachrome for years to come. Tucker - no matter the play, no matter the role - effortlessly moves from one character to the next with graceful ease and astounding skill. There is, perhaps, no actor on a Nashville stage who can so skillfully break your heart one minute, then send you into gales of laughter the next, with such powerful versatility. She is a treasure and, one could argue, her performance in Kodachrome is worth the price of admission.
Kodachrome. By Adam Szykmkowicz. Directed by Rachel Agee. Presented by Actors Bridge Ensemble. At Actors Bridge Studio, Darkhorse Theater, Nashville. Through July 28. For details, go to www.actorsbridge.org or call (615) 498-4077. Running time: 90 minutes (with no intermission).