Review: Intense and Compelling IN A WORD at The Hub Theatre

By: Apr. 07, 2016

For a brief moment when the opening night performance of IN A WORD ended there was quiet. A stillness fell as the audience collected itself, took a breath, and processed the intensity of the experience. Then, after a beat, the well-deserved applause began.

The Hub Theatre's IN A WORD combines a superb cast, flawless direction and a strong script to create a thoroughly compelling production.

We meet Fiona and Guy on the second anniversary of their son Tristan's disappearance. In this play time is fluid as Fiona turns over each moment of that critical day to reexamine any significance, any motive. As time moves we see how Tristan is a handful, Guy is distant, and Fiona is frazzled as we move closer to that fateful day where the highlight should have been picture day and story time. Now, as days have become weeks, and months have become years after Tristan's disappearance, Fiona still can't reconcile herself to the sorrow, guilt and confusion; Guy can't continue in limbo and attempts to reengage Fiona in their marriage, in her work, and in life.

The three person cast: Kerri Rambow, Colin Hovde, and Robert Bowen Smith is a solid unit, connected and strong. Often when an artist displays this type of risk and bravery in performance you hear that the actor is "working without a net" but that's not true here - each of the actors completely supports and backs the others so no one is without a safety net. Three-time Helen Hayes Award nominee Kerri Rambow is Fiona, the play's lynchpin, who is sympathetic, flawed, steadfast and pushed to her limit. Colin Hovde (Artistic Director of Theatre Alliance and a Helen Hayes Award-winning director) has a quieter but no less intense role; Guy, overwhelmed by the lack of attention to him and to the marriage, simply checks out. Robert Bowen Smith takes on multiple roles: Tristan, the principal, a detective, even the neighborhood kidnapper who pops up in the produce aisle. Each one of Smith's characters is unique and fully fleshed, but the complicated boy Tristan - at times heartbreaking, at times hilarious - is especially noteworthy.

From the very first surprising entrance blocked by director Matt Bassett, it is clear IN A WORD is highly unorthodox. Bassett (who is The Hub's Associate Artistic Director) balances shifts in time and richly layered wordplay yet never loses the authenticity and heart of the work. Bassett has a clear vision for the work which helps the audience navigate the unexpected shifts dictated by the text.

Production elements support the layered and unique tone of the script. Betsy Zuck's scenic design balances the day-to-day unit set with the poetic elements of leaves and trees that are a recurring theme of the text. Catherine Girardi's lighting design knits these elements and scenes together. Patrick Calhoun's sound design and composition is haunting, particularly the ambient music that greets audiences before the start of the play with subtle odd echoes and children's (excited? scared? silly?) calls. Maria Vetsch designed the flexible contemporary costumes.

The script by playwright Lauren Yee is rich and ambitious. IN A WORD just completed a rolling world premiere at the San Francisco Playhouse, Cleveland Public Theatre and Chicago's Straw Dog Theatre. The concept of the rolling world premiere is the flagship effort propelled by the National New Play Network. Several DC-area theatres have been part of such premieres. NNPN, which earned special recognition at the 2015 Helen Hayes Awards, supports and coordinates productions of new plays at a minimum of three theatres across the country within a 12-month window. This allows playwrights to see their work interpreted by different artists in different communities and helps promote an "afterlife" for a strong script since too often a promising work languishes after a stand-alone splashy premiere. IN A WORD has rightfully gathered momentum with other productions slated for Louisville, KY and Santa Barbara, CA. Lauren Yee's work is familiar to Hub audiences; The Hub produced a previous Yee work, THE HATMAKER'S WIFE, a script which earned an Outer Critics Circle nomination for the John Gassner Award for best play by a new American playwright.

During IN A WORD Fiona and Guy ask, "What is our worst case scenario?" and realize that with the disappearance of their son, they are living it. As an audience, sometimes it is a challenge to open ourselves up to that level of pain; do we really want to get off the comfy couch, go to the theatre and buy the ticket knowing that we surrender ourselves go through this sorrow and confusion with them? Yes - for IN A WORD leave the comfy couch behind for an evening. IN A WORD examines grief but it is balanced with humor and redemption. IN A WORD is an exceptional work by smart artists who push themselves and elevate the work of all involved. The production only runs through April 24; make your plans to attend now.

Runtime: 80 minutes with no intermission

IN A WORD runs through April 24 with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. The Hub Theatre production is at the John Swayze Theatre at the New School of Northern Virginia, 9431 Silver King Court in Fairfax, Virginia. For tickets or for more information, please see the Hub Theatre website here.

Photo Credit: DJ Corey Photography. (Top: Colin Hovde, Robert Bowen Smith & Kerri Rambow, center: Robert Bowen Smith & Kerri Rambow, next: Robert Bowen Smith, next and bottom: Colin Hovde & Kerri Rambow)


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