Encore Michigan

‘Evidence of Things Unseen’ “moving” at Detroit Rep

Review November 03, 2018 Patrice Nolan

DETROIT – Katie Forgette’s Evidence of Things Unseen is one of those perfectly lovely plays designed to take its audience on a brief but emotionally intense journey. It’s the kind of rich storytelling that Detroit Repertory Theatre is so good at, and a perfect opener for its 62nd season.

Abigail (Nicole Levey-Hunt) and Jane (Yolanda Jack) are sisters who share a love for their elderly father and the sorrow of family tragedy. Jane, a mother of two, has found consolation in her Christian faith; Abigail, a journalist, is a devout agnostic who prefers to deal with life’s setbacks on her own terms. Abigail quotes George Bernard Shaw, Jane responds with C. S. Lewis. Both wish they could bring the other to their own viewpoint, and both resent the barrier their differences has raised between them.

The play opens as a Daniel (David Wolber), steps out of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting during the break and meets Abigail, who is reluctant to go in. They chat briefly, and Daniel recognizes her as someone who’d lingered in the parking lot the previous week. He encourages Abigail to join the group, but she declines, and he returns to the meeting, saying he hopes to see her at next time, even if she still can’t come in. When Abigail meets up with Jane later, she makes no mention of AA or her encounter with Daniel. Both women are preoccupied with worry about their father, Jack.

They have chosen to meet him for lunch at a park – his favorite spot for feeding ducks and pursuing his hobby as an amateur ornithologist. When Jack (Cornell Markham) strolls in with his walker, we see that he is a dapper but somewhat fragile man. A retired English professor, he is recovering from a bad fall that seems to have shaken more than his bones. He has moments of confusion that are out of character for a man of obvious intellect, insight and pride. And it doesn’t help that his daughters can’t quite agree on the right way to look out for his best interests.

To give away any more of the plot would be to spoil the effect with which the backstory unspools to connect these four characters. Under the direction of Lynch Travis, the cast does a superb job of keeping it honest as they try to find context for their guilt and their pain, even as they express it with humor and humanity. The emotional substance of this play would tempt lesser actors to overact, but the work of this ensemble rings ever true.

The scenic design by Harry Wetzel, lit by Thomas Schraeder, works like a montage to represent the church where AA meetings are held, the duck pond favored by Jack, and even a columbarium. Sound design by Burr Huntington brings the waterfowl (and even a woodpecker) to life. Mary Copenhagen is the Costume Designer and Kelly Pino is Stage Manager.

Evidence of Things Unseen is a moving tribute to people who, like most of us, are trying to make sense of the sorrows in their lives. There is much here we can all relate to. The title derives from the letter of Paul to the Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The four people in this play are connected by unseen forces, but through each other, they are able to glimpse something that looks very much like hope. The flutter of wings? The angle of light on the water? A memory echoed in the chambers of the heart? It is sufficient.

 

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Read more about Evidence of Things Unseen 11/01–12/23

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