by Mel House · August 12, 2014
If you’re looking for a play that will break your heart and possibly cause you to leave the theatre crying, Halfway, Nebraska is the show to see.
This unexpected family drama follows a single mother, Sheila, and her two children, Nate and Miri, on an emotional journey from California to Nebraska. Set in 2008, when Nebraska’s Safe Haven law allows parents to leave their children at hospitals to become wards of the state, Sheila is faced with the hardest decision of her life.
The play opens in California as Sheila anxiously packs her two kids into her 1990 Dodge Caravan for a road trip. The set and lighting, designed by Lauren Bremen, is simple, clean and highly effective. Using wooden planks, Bremen creates a car frame that sits atop a rolling platform, allowing the audience to view this family from many perspectives. Projections, smartly designed by Grant McDonald, provide the backdrop that take us from the family driveway in California through each of the states that connect it to a hospital in Nebraska. The mileage ticks away as we get closer and closer to the final destination.
Sheila’s fourteen year-old son, Nate, suffers from an emotional disturbance. Caring for a child with special needs is a challenging task for highly trained specialists, so imagine the difficulties for a single working-class mother of two. When Nate breaks his little sister’s arm, “twisting it on purpose until it breaks,” Sheila is forced to take action.
Nate, played by Ted Sutherland, is a charming kid who delievers shocking dialogue to provoke his mother and sister. The depth of this young man’s pain and anger are revealed in a few well chosen moments throughout the play. The young Delphina Belle gives a pitch perfect performance in her stage debut as Miri, a resiliant and fiesty young girl with the ability to forgive her brother’s most cruel actions. And their mother, played by Yvonne Perry, has the harrowing task of doing the unthinkable--abandoning one child for the good of the other. Several times, she searches for something in her son that will allow her to turn back. In the moments just before they reach the hosptial, while her kids are passed out, Perry gives a heartwrenching performance as a mother seeking absolution for the act that must come.
In his new 80 minute play, playwright Briandaniel Oglesby grapples with the question, “What does it mean to love someone who is far too damaged to be saved?” Originally a one-act, Halfway, Nebraska was a national finalist for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and was developed during the Playwright’s Week at The Lark Development Center.
Led by Director Daniel R. Melnick, this team packs a punch! The audience was thoroughly engaged from the first moment, and as I left the theatre I heard the highest praise, people were not talking about the performances or the story, they were talking about themselves.