by Espii · June 16, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #115 Espii looks at Broken Homes at Under St. Marks
When I walked into Under St. Mark’s, the first thing I noticed was the zooming plane noises. A gurney stood center stage as the only prop. Lauren Lubow was already on stage in character, moving with every zooming sound. She introduced herself as Christina Riggs, the first woman who asked for the death penalty. It was argued that it turned into a state-assisted suicide. She had murdered her two children with the same injection chemicals they use for the death penalty. Those were the same drugs that the state was going to use to kill her.
But she immediately tells us she’s not here to tell a sob story. We could forget our candle-lighting, vigil-holding selves for her or her children. Only when she was in jail ready to die did people try to help or offer assistance and their prayers. Where were we when her kids were hungry and she had to fend for herself?
This moment sets the stage for Broken Homes. Produced by Red Garnet Theater Company, the show is comprised of two solo performances, Welcome to America and Two Grey Hairs. The two were developed separately but share themes in common. Together, they tell the stories of women who’ve had their lives impacted by the issues around them: racism, sexism, poverty, abandonment; and the outcome of those situations.
Where Welcome to America had a visceral connection with its physicality, Two Grey Hairs engaged the mind through its use of poetic language. Mia Ellis plays Emmy, a woman who has an estranged relationship with her father. She echoes her “fear of losing it all, so never pursuing it all” through her stories of growing up and relationship challenges. Some of these moments are rushed through, however. Above her head hangs postcards that she wrote to her father. She raises her hand toward the notes as she reads them out loud, but always fails to make physical connection with them.
Do you remember that feeling in middle school when they turned all the lights on at a dance and you felt like you were being watched? Lighting designer Daryl Embry gives us a jarred, off-balanced feeling during Welcome to America by keeping the house lights on. I felt like I was being watched. Once the security guard tossed down the remote to Christina Riggs, and she would glance back up every so often, I realized who was watching me. We, as the audience, occupied the same cell as Christina. The experience was the opposite for Two Grey Hairs. The house lights were off. In addition, the soft stage lighting combined with the grey veil, gave the audience an insight into her memories.
Director Ruth Coughlin created each gesture to be very specific to certain characters and motifs. The car was a common motif throughout both performances. The Thunderbird in Welcome to America gave a sense of danger and independence while the white truck in Two Grey Hairs gave a sense of lost hope. The repetition made overall moments clear and distinct.
Broken Homes makes no apologies for circumstances because these women didn’t create them. They simply dealt with the cards they were dealt. And even though their response to their environment are polar opposites, Broken Homes shows the impact that unfortunate circumstances has on women themselves and those around them.