by Mitchell Conway · January 24, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #40: Mitchell Conway looks at The Clearing at Theatre at St. Clement’s
Entering the Theatre at St. Clements for The Clearing, I was first struck by Daniel Zimmerman’s gorgeous set design of real trees and a slanted dirt path. Jake Jeppson’s intimate drama digs at the substance of close and fraught relationships. Two brothers, Les and Chris, are united by a common wound from their childhoods. They ritually meet to toast marshmallows out in the woods and sleep by the fire together. Their bond is such that it seems they have let few others into their lives. As Les, Brian McManamon is sheepish and sensitive in contrast to Brian P. Murphy’s aggressive and brash Chris. In one simple scene, Les shaves Chris with a straight razor. Murphy’s merger of masculinity with childlike fear is impressively accomplished. The events of the play, which unravel backwards, show the impact on this relationship by Les’s new boyfriend, Peter.
In Chris and Peter’s relationship, there is an imbalance where Peter is pushing Chris to reveal more of himself yet never offering more than detached caretaking on his part. Peter, played by Gene Galleran, is described by the boys’ mother as ideal, while he is in many ways a void. A moment that really struck me was out in the woods when Chris was freaking out seeing something we could not see, and all Peter could say was a distanced ‘woah,’ as Les took care of his brother. His probity extends so far that he invites his boyfriend’s mother for a nude photo shoot. Allison Daugherty, as Ella, executed this scene with real bravery. In simple lines like “I like feeding them” and “I’m an old sad lady” Daugherty offers exceptional emotional nakedness.
A quite uncomfortable tension built up in me about what could have happened to the two brothers as kids, anticipating any number of possibilities. A grumbling elderly couple next to me kept audibly mumbling complaints, especially during the show’s more vulnerable moments. This is a very raw show confronting childhood trauma and unhealthy family bonds. Clearly the intimacy of the gay relationship and other exposed moments were too much for some. Jeppson achieves uncomfortable closeness so go to this production if you’re OK being challenged in that way.
Transitional backwards movement sequences choreographed by Lorin Latarro that incorporated changes of costume were graceful and emotionally full. Notable from the sound design by Sam Kusnetz was the impressively realistic use of echoing voices across the clearing’s ledge.
Josh Hecht has put together a strong production that goes for the heart of masculinity. If Peter is introspection, then he is reaching out to Les, the inner sensitive man, and tearing him from his troubled link to a certain type of manly male identity and its fundamental sadness.