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BWW Review: THE AUNTIE NETWORK presented by The Studio Theatre Tierra Del Sol

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This filmed, staged reading brings Elenna Stauffer's intriguing new play to audiences at home.

BWW Review: THE AUNTIE NETWORK presented by The Studio Theatre Tierra Del SolWith COVID-19 still raging around the world, and cases still quite high here in Central Florida, one might believe that it will be some time before enjoying the thrill of live theatre once again. But as theaters face the unique challenges the virus poses to performers and audiences alike, many companies are considering unique ways to bring theatre to life for audiences at home. One example of this is the Staged Play Reading Series currently being offered by The Studio Theatre Tierra Del Sol in The Villages, FL, which brings partially staged, script-in-hand performances to its audiences at home (or wherever one might be quarantined). Their latest offering, a staged reading of Elenna Stauffer's THE AUNTIE NETWORK, creatively tells the story of two women and the significant impact helping a young, pregnant mother has on their lives.

THE AUNTIE NETWORK introduces the audience to Bex (Leslie Munson) and Tish (Roberta Emerson), two roommates in New York who have just signed up to be part of "The Network" a secret underground community that aids young women seeking abortions. They take in Anne (Matia Prescott), a pregnant teen who travels from an undisclosed part of the U.S. to stay with Bex and Trish while she has the procedure. After Anne makes a surprising decision, the roommates are forced to decide the lengths they will go to help another woman in need.

With an interesting concept, THE AUNTIE NETWORK vividly illustrates the complexity and hidden impact of good deeds, and the realities of making choices for a baby as an adolescent. Elenna Stauffer's script is familiar, tight, and comes across as very authentic and believable. From the beginning, the dialogue between Bex and Tish immediately conveys a strong friendship and signals to the audience that the story unfolding will be an interesting one. The more dramatic scenes later in the play between the roommates and their young guest, Anne are well written and, though fast paced, quite impactful.

The cast of THE AUNTIE NETWORK is strong and enjoyable to watch and seemed to rarely need to reference their scripts, though they were ever present - impressive for just five rehearsals. Roberta Emerson delivers the best performance of the play as Tish, conveying a strong woman who wants to do the right thing but who picks up on signals that something may not be quite right about the situation. As Bex, her roommate, Leslie Munson is the more trusting of the two and brings a balanced performance, part optimistic philanthropist, part overworked and frustrated young adult. As young Anne, High School senior Matia Prescott is believably awestruck by her situation and the city she finds herself in, coming from a religious family in a small town somewhere in America. She doesn't quite get to the level of shock and anger one might expect during a signature confrontation halfway through the play, but her indifference and stubbornness towards the end is quite compelling. Rounding out the cast is Alyson Johnson as Des, the landlady who plays a small, but pivotal role to close out the play.

Nathaniel Niemi's direction, considering the constraints of a staged reading, is quite effective. He balances the need for social distancing (supplemented by occasional voice overs to describe actions that can't be performed by the actors, such as hugging) with effective blocking and use of the simple, but appropriate set (designed by Kenneth Constant). Video Producer/Company Manager Ryan Loeckel plays a pivotal role for this production, capturing the action on film. He employs some creative angles to capture specific moments, some of which work well, others, not so much (could have done without the keyhole shot which felt a bit heavy handed). David Krupla's lighting works well for the stage, but there were a few balance issues with Nick Erickson's sound - nothing that took away from the overall enjoyment, just some leveling needed with Ms. Munson's mic.

Overall, it was a thrill for this reviewer to get to experience The Studio Theatre's staged reading of Elenna Stauffer's THE AUNTIE NETWORK, not just because it felt great to be back "at the theatre" even if only remotely, but because of the fresh and interesting production itself. If audiences are missing their theatre fix, I encourage them to give THE AUNTIE NETWORK a chance, and to support local theatre in this incarnation until we can all be back together in person once more.

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THE AUNTIE NETWORK, presented by The Studio Theatre Tierra Del Sol, can be viewed on August 21st, 28th, September 4th or 11th at 7pm EDT. Tickets for virtual seats are $10 and can be purchased by visiting https://tickets.thevillages.com/events/3997 For more information about past and upcoming virtual offerings visit www.TheSharonStudio.com.


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From This Author Joseph Harrison