BWW Review: SALT, ROOT, AND ROE Challenges and Touches with Deeply Moving Performances
The distant sound of Atlantic Ocean waves receive you when you enter the theatre at the Kransberg Arts Center for Salt, Root, and Roe by Tim Price, which is currently making its US premier with Upstream Theater in partnership with Stages Repertory of Houston. When the lights dim, you'll be transported to a small village on the northern coast of modern-day Pembrokeshire, the most westerly part of Wales. An exterior beach in the foreground; an interior wood-planked room filled with packing boxes, small furnishings, and textiles just beyond that; and on the back wall, an illustrated representation of this place - Anest and Iola's seaside cottage - all aptly set the stage for what is to come.
Menna (Amy Loui) appears, distraught. She holds a note - a suicide note - written to her by her beloved Aunt Iola (Donna Weinsting), twin to her mother Anest (Sally Edmundson). Because Anest and Iola are missing now, Menna has enlisted the search and rescue help of local officer Gareth (Eric Dean White). Friends since childhood, Menna and Gareth seem to understand one another, although Menna has long since moved away and disconnected from their Welsh roots, which are thick with mythology and tradition.
When the sisters return to the cottage, startled to find Menna here, Menna is relieved and Gareth is sent on his way. But Menna, who finds the twins' living conditions and psychological states much more dire than she'd imagined, uses these as an excuse to stay and care for the aging sisters. Anest (who has been quietly shouldering the responsibility of caring for Iola upon news of a brain tumor that has severely affected Iola's ability to function) appears strong, but is tired and broken herself. But so is Menna. And so is Gareth. And so is everyone. It is in this weary aching that conflict is born as the women look after one another and themselves, after succumbing to "the doldrums" of life that have worn them down.
Along with underscoring the expected setbacks that come with caring for ill and aging family members, this play also delves into the finding and keeping of family folklore, loving someone so much it aches, and of coming from the sea and going back to it again. It places at its forefront the ephemeralness of a life and forces its audience to consider finding joy in even the most difficult moments. The play, inspired by a Dylan Thomas poem, "Where Once the Waters of Your Face," does a fine job evoking a sense of both great love and great loss. Like the beach pebbles these sisters have collected through the years, this work gives profound weight to the complications of living (and dying) every day, and it leaves room for intelligent conversation long after an audience member leaves the theatre.
The entire production is quite wonderful, with smart writing and beautiful tech, but the acting in this is phenomenal. Despite the obvious fact that they are not actually identical twins, Weinsting and Edmunson play together most agreeably. It is with great care that the pair under Kenn McLaughlin's excellent direction bring these characters to life, and much attention has been given to creating a believable shared history. From the way Weinsting and Edmunson seem to understand one another with a shared glance unobserved by other characters to the way they hold one another in times of crisis, their onstage chemistry is fascinating to watch. Loui also brings a solid performance. Her character displays eccentricities that could easily come off as outlandish, but Loui uses these to provoke great compassion, stimulating much understanding for a character whose middle-age years have produced alarming realizations and dreams unrealized. Rounding out this cast, White also shines, portraying a male voice whose life has also been affected not only by his environment but also by the effects of just living a life.
One small distraction on the night I saw it was that the tech crew was audible offstage, but otherwise this is a beautifully executed, emotionally sweeping production. Despite its heavy subject matter, it is layered and has many funny moments. Do take time to see it.
Salt, Root, and Roe runs through May 12 at Kranzberg Arts Center. Running time is 1:40 with no intermission. For more information and tickets, visit https://upstreamtheater.org/content/see-play.