Encore Michigan

Williamston’s ‘Alabaster’ opens poignant window into pain and loss

Review June 01, 2023 Bridgette Redman

WILLIAMSTON, MI–Everyone’s a little bit broken. We may march out into the world as shiny toy soldiers, but sooner or later we are buffeted by battle and our paint chips, our limbs break, our veneer scratches and we end up shattered and cracked.

Alabaster by Audrey Cefaly at Williamston Theatre is a play about four broken women, albeit two of the women are talking goats. The rolling world premiere features women who have been scarred by the world, experienced pain and hardship almost beyond bearing and they have to decide whether they can heal and march back out to face the next battle or whether they are going to resign themselves to solitude and sorrow, discarded in life’s dustbin.

Directed by Tony Caselli, Alabaster is a heartfelt show filled with gentle surprises, warm laughter and four endearing characters. The journey the play takes is an emotional one, an expedition into the hearts and minds of those who have experienced great loss.

Caselli stages the play to focus on both the vulnerability and strength of these women. Whether it was Weezy prowling the perimeter with her beer or Bib whimpering in her death throes or June standing defiantly center stage or Alice slowly making an intrusion into space that is not hers; the motions were carefully choreographed to express both personality and intent.

June, played by Katherine Banks, is a crusty Southerner who defies the label of redneck. Banks infuses suspicion, fear and longing into the scarred woman who has invited Alice, played by Kristina Riegle, into her home to photograph her and the marks crisscrossing her body. Banks carefully works within the walls that June has built, explosively flinging against them at critical moments to achieve what appears to be a loss of control amid a whirlwind of memories and emotions.

Riegle gives Alice an appropriate amount of sophistication, portraying confidence that is frayed at the edges. She wields silences scrupulously, each one bringing her closer to opening up and revealing her secrets.

The two engage in an intricate dance in which they build from the familiar to the frightening, from safe ground to a risky launching pad. It is a waltz that works because both actors invest completely in the characters, holding nothing back.

Hallie Bee Bard is a delight as Weezy, the goat who is fully aware that she is a theatrical device. If a goat were a human, she’d probably be like Weezy, at least, Bard manages to convince you of that. Sometimes grumpy, sometimes aggressive, sometimes caprinely surprised, Bard is easily the wisest of the wise women even while burdened with her own unresolved issues. Bard’s Weezy is what tough love would look like if it were personified—or, more accurately, goatified.

Gloria Vivalda speaks few words as the ancient Bib, a goat who has few days left in her and every moment has its physical pains. Confused and struggling to move, she spends most of the play sleeping on her bed, off to the side but always present, a reminder that pain comes in many forms. Vivalda’s physicality simultaneously portrays frailty and an undying strength of spirit.

The four of them romp on Monika Essen’s beautifully symbolic stage, one that takes you to a small town in Alabama and reminds you that a tragedy has taken place in this space, a tragedy that, like the humans who inhabit it, fractures the very walls and floors of the home.

The circle of broken wood that commands center stage opens onto a backdrop which Lighting Designer Shannon T. Schweitzer and Projection Designer Jeromy Hopgood use to support the story. They fill it with images and color that underline the play’s surrealism. Too often, lighting specials feel forced or fake—a change that force-feeds emotion to an audience but makes little sense in the context of the play. That is not the case here in part because the play only teases at realism and the lighting and projections are part of an overall seduction that summons audience members into this amorphous realm of pain and resilience.

Krista Brown’s costuming can be easy to overlook as the play is contemporary and it would be tempting to think the clothing is an after-thought. And yet, each outfit helps to define the woman who wears it, revealing hints of who they are and who they might become. This is especially true for the two goats who are not, in fact, wearing goat costumes. There is a rustic look to what they wear, reflecting the feel of the farm.

Alexis Black, an expert on intimacy, fight and movement from Michigan State University, provides a choreography that subtly shows both attraction and isolation.

Michelle Raymond, who one imagines must bribe every local thrift shop to stash away their treasures for her, dresses the set with oddities and homespun items to provide a sense of place. She faithfully provides every item exactly as the script describes.

Cefaly never lets you forget that Alabaster is a play, one that invites both belief and disbelief. Even the characters accept that they are in a play, which makes it easy for the audience to do so as well. She steeps the story with humor, with heartbreak and with love.

While she introduces characters broken by the pain of life, she doesn’t leave them or us there. Instead, she proffers a journey of hope, an expedition that doesn’t discount the ache and sting of loss, but offers a pathway through it and a prompt that there is reason to continue to grab hold of another’s hand and continue the march.

For tickets and show info, go to the Williamston Theatre’s website here.

Week of 7/15/2024

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