Williamston opens window into life in a ‘Doublewide’
WILLIAMSTON, Mich.–Two of the things that Williamston Theater does well is launch new works and tell the stories of everyday families from mid-America. With Doublewide, the show that opened Easter weekend, it does both.
The drama by Stephen Spotswood is part of a rolling world premiere where a new work gets several performances in a single year—in this case, Florida Repertory Theatre in Fort Myers, Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota and Vermont Stage in Burlington. Director Tony Caselli brings the final production of the National New Play Network’s sponsorship to Michigan.
It’s the type of story that is familiar to Williamston audiences. It focuses on a family that struggles, but is filled with people you can care about, people you can root for. There are no villains in this piece, at least not any that appear on stage. The antagonist is poverty, big business, societal indifference and the struggle of life itself.
Joseph Albright returns to Williamston’s stage to play Big Jim, the father of the Starkey family. He’s an average guy in a lot of ways—works a blue-collar job, enjoys hunting, lives in a double-wide trailer and loves his family. His name is Big Jim and everyone loves him.
What he is not is the stereotype so often cast upon those who live in trailer parks. He drinks, but he’s not an alcoholic. He’s passionate, but his temper never hurts those around him. His language is salty, but it is never mean. He’s not an intellectual, but he’s not stupid.
Rather, he is a man who wants the best for his family and is frustrated that he can’t give them what he wants. Albright portrays this well, creating a good-humored man who hurts deeply.
Emily Sutton-Smith plays his wife, Sharon, who is equally worn out by life, especially by her job as a cashier at Walmart. But despite the cares that wear her down, she hasn’t given up on life either. Even as they have struggled, Sharon keeps her eye on what is good about their life and what she has to celebrate.
Brenda Lane is a joy to watch as Coral, Big Jim’s mother who is spending her pension at a local casino and enjoying every moment of it. Lane brings humor to Coral without making her a caricature. She’s opinionated and making the most of her life no matter what others might think of it.
Two Michigan State University students make out the rest of the cast, the family’s daughter Lorelai and her would-be tutor Chuck. Katelyn Christine Hodge gives depth to the troubled teenager who is exhausted from working, struggling at school and has a boyfriend who is less than supportive. Hodge taps into the angst of the age and the frustration of being a teenager.
Sean McKeon’s Chuck is the somewhat geeky tutor who sheds a contrast into the show. He’s a boy with wealthy parents and a bright future ahead of him because he has plenty of resources at his fingertips.
“Doublewide” explores questions of mortality and the frustrations of life for those that just can’t get ahead even when they do everything right. It exposes a heartbreak that many families can relate to, especially as they get older and realize the American Dream grows more elusive by the day.
But it is not a heavy drama by any means. There is plenty of humor in it and the characters have a deep love for each other and are going to support each other no matter what—a wealth that proves far more valuable than a fattened bank account.
In many ways, the play is a slice of life, a love letter to all those families who struggle and stay together through thick and thin. It is an acknowledgement that you don’t have to be rich to have value in our society and that there is more to life than fame and status.
Kirk Domer created a wonderful set for a doublewide trailer. The tiled background is done in evocative colors and the wooden frame of the house allows for all the necessary action to be done with great drama, particularly toward the end. It is also a set that captures the rundown look of a worn-out house. Likewise, Lorelai’s bedroom is perfectly decorated for a sloppy teenager.
“Doublewide,” which says it is set in “a small town not far from where you’re sitting,” captures well life outside the big city, life in a rural America where everyday is a struggle, but where there is still love, happiness and hope to be found.