BWW Reviews: PRIDE IN THE FALLS OF AUTREY MILL at Signature Theatre is Stunning

By: Nov. 07, 2013
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What a thrill to be able to see two world premiere plays (one a musical) in one day in one theater. One can do this thanks to the Signature Theatre's Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer who thrives on bringing new work to the Baltimore/Washington area. He boasts in the program that Signature has produced 25 world premiere plays and 14 world premiere plays.

You too can see two world premiere plays in one day. In the intimate110-seat Ark space, is PRIDE IN THE FALLS OF AUTREY MILL. In the 270-seat main stage, the MAX, is the world premiere musical CROSSING.

I love this idea of double-headers but I have to admit this is the first time I've seen two world premieres in one day.

What a brilliant idea to import the Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company Michael Kahn to direct AUTRY MILL. His last time doing this was in 1994. Kahn is a masterful director and he is at the top of his game with his work here.

Ofcourse the four member cast has a lot to do with the success of this new work. I was astonished to read a few months ago that Hollywood icon Christi Lahti would be coming to the Shirlington stage to head the cast. I have great memories of Lahti from her terrific role in the television hit "Chicago Hope" with Mandy Patinkin as well as many other television series and film.

How did Signature convince Lahti to come? Thanks to a great article by Nelson Pressley in the Washington Post (October 11, 2013), Lahti and playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo have the same agent and the rest is history. Once she read the play she stated, "I would maybe do this play anywhere on earth. It spoke to me that profoundly."

And Lahti's performance as frustrated housewife Carley is one of the most powerful performances I've ever seen on stage. It's a part made for her.

The strange name of the play concerns the suburban Georgia town of The Falls of Autrey Mill where each house has Roman column porches, manicuRed Lawns, and there are swimming pools and tennis courts a plenty.

One expects to see a "Leave it to Beaver" kind of household. But it's 2009 not the 1950's. The stay-at-home Mom is so proud of her community victory winning a first-place ribbon for a flower arrangement that she has arranged a family reunion in order to take a photograph of her "perfect" family with her flowers for the community newsletter.

As it turns out, not surprisingly, her family is NOT perfect. The family is full of secrets that almost all will be revealed to Carly. One is so controversial, the playwright does even let Carly aware of it.

She's married to successful businessman Louie (the amazing Wayne Duvall) who travels a lot. One can see when he does not give ANY eye contact to his wife...something is amiss. Yet he still says quite seriously to Carly out of the blue, "Do you want a new car?"

The play opens with Carly seated in the dining room with her son Chad (the terrific Anthony Bowden) who is in college.There is silence. She looks frustrated, concerned, annoyed, and upset. She starts the conversation this way, "Do you think your brother is gay too?" The audience erupts with laughter. She adds later, "I deserve grandkids." There is much laughter. In many ways, it is a comedy. But there is so much more.

Carly's other son, Tommy (the superb Christopher McFarland who reminded me of Phillip Seymour Hoffman) arrives. He is clearly overweight and Carly is annoyed with this fact. She's constantly reminding him of his urge to eat. Tommy has an Ivy-League undergraduate degree and Ivy-League law school degree about to take the bar exam. But Tommy confides he will not be a lawyer. Instead, he loves his job managing a pizza restaurant named "Rowdy Randy's". He adds, "I don't want to be a lawyer anymore." Carly is devastated.

When Carly is then faced with the realization that her husband is having an affair and will be leaving...well you can imagine how Carly reacts....a stagehand's nightmare. (Speaking of stagehands, something must be done with the set so the audience cannot see them walk by in the back. For a minute, I thought I was seeing "Rosemary's Baby" when audiences were shocked and surprised to see visitors walk unexpectedly in Rosemary's supposed private apartment.)

Carly is always primping herself, looking at her appearance in mirrors, and even tries on her mink coat while on the phone with a friend while in a closet. I was expecting she would be selling magazine subscriptions like in THE GLASS MENAGERIE.

James Noone is responsible for the clever set. His living room folds in half to sometimes reveal a closet or a bathroom. Frank Labovitz did the fine costumes and Andrew Scharwath did the wonderful lighting. Palmer Hefferan did the sound and is responsible for the interesting music which reminded me of "Tubular Bells".

Lahti's performance is a night to remember. This play has legs and could be heading possibly to the Great White Ways someday. Don't miss it.

AUTRY MILL continues until Dec. 7, 2013. For tickets, call 703-573-7328 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.

The 2014 Sondheim Award Gala will be Monday, April 7, 2014 at the Embassy of Italy and will honor the dean of orchestration, Jonathan Tunick. For tickets, call 571-527-1828 or visit www.signature-theatre.org/2014-sondheim-award-gala.

cgshubow@broadwayworld.com



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