Carey Crim’s ‘Never Not Once’ at Purple Rose powerful and poignant
CHELSEA, Mich.–It is a rare experience, indeed, to witness live theater so moving it renders faces wet with tears both on stage and throughout the audience.
Opening night of Never Not Once, a world premiere in the intimate space of The Purple Rose, provided that rare experience.
It’s impossible to say what really needs to be said about this play without spoiling it for those who have yet to see it. However, the seeds of its story are more common than one would hope, evidenced by how deeply its larger themes resonate.
Never Not Once is the fifth Purple Rose premiere from playwright Carey Crim, and the play won the Jane Chambers Playwriting Award in 2017. In it, the daughter of a lesbian couple comes home from college with her boyfriend and declares she’s hired a private investigator to help her find her father. Her birth mother swears she can’t remember the name of the only man she ever slept with—a forgettable college one-night stand. But her other mother reveals what might be the man’s name, and the daughter narrows her search, only to discover she does “not come from good.”
The desire to know one’s origins, to face the violence of one’s past, and to seek redemption are all at play here, and these desires unfurl via intense relationships that come to life in powerful scenes that mostly ring true through largely excellent performances.
Casaundra Freeman as Nadine and Michelle Mountain as Allison create a vibrant, loving, desirous, middle-aged interracial lesbian couple whose banter and depth are delightful to see. Their connection is the anchor for the entire show. The way each woman relates to Eleanor, the daughter, played with aplomb by Caitlin Cavannaugh, also builds the complexity and enduring love among this family of women.
Mountain is also wonderful with Rusty Mewha, who plays the man from her past, as they successfully navigate the deeply emotional twists and turns of unwittingly facing the shape-shifting darknesses of their past—particularly when they don’t have a shared experience of what happened or its fallout.
Which is partly why one of the most potent scenes in the play is between the two men—Mewha and Jeremy Kucharek, as Eleanor’s boyfriend, an otherwise peripheral character, in a confrontation that signifies the unavoidable truth that it is men who must call each other out for misogyny. What transpires between them wends us closer to our own exhaustion for having to ponder the question “Why is it that the best in women is always asked to forgive the worst in men?”
Guy Sanville’s direction heightens the drama by making the most of its realness and humor. More often than not what appears to unfold is genuine emotion; however, blocking in moments of conflict as if in a boxing ring with actors circling each other and line delivery with the cadence of overly-emphatic slam poetry can be a bit heavy-handed.
However, the technical aspects are clean and understated. Thanks to Noele Stollmack’s lights, Sarah Pearline’s set shifts from upper middle-class home to other locales without incident, and they show the audience where to look with subtlety.
In some ways Never Not Once can be read as an emotional revenge fantasy born of the #metoo moment, one in which women and their love for each other endures and conquers all; and yet, therein lies the rub. If, in this cultural moment, there is no change, no reconciliation, no reparations, then is there progress? Or is finding the gift in that which doesn’t come from good all the redemption we need?
Not quite being able to answer these questions is perhaps the deeper reason beyond the particular circumstances of “Never Not Once” that makes us all spontaneously weep by the play’s end.