Friday, February 1, 2013

"Our Practical Heaven" ☼ ☼ ☼ ?

In this Aurora Theater World Premiere of Anthony Clarvoe's "Our Practical Heaven," six women meet at the family getaway spot, a house on a beach somewhere on the East Coast. It is located where rising seas will before too long bury the property under water. This is the metaphor for the relationships between all six women, as tides shift, moons rise and relationships ebb and flow.

Our matriarch is Vera (Joy Carlin), who is clearly the family's guiding light. Her counterpart is the youngest member present, grand-daughter Leez (Adrienne Walters). Just finishing high school, Leez bonds with Vera as they are the two without best friends. Sasha (Anne Darragh) and Willa (Julia Brothers) are long time friends and "honorary sisters," as are Magz (Lauren Spencer) and Suze (Blythe Foster). Magz is Willa's daughter, Suze is Sasha's daughter from a first marriage and Leez is Sasha's daughter from the marriage that is breaking up now.

It's a World Premiere, after all, so Act One is still a little long. Though written by a man (who originally included several male characters but they have all been eliminated in this final version), "Heaven" may be what we call, with some trepidation, a "woman's show." Act One sets up all the shifting alliances and betrayals and on-again off-again turf squabbles between the six women. There is a lot of talk which doesn't seem to be going anywhere, but in Act Two the payoff arrives, in the form of Willa's attempts to save the property in the form of a refuge, which has several intended and unintended consequences. In the end, it is time for the older generation to hand the ball to the younger.

One interesting touch to the play is that the three young women are constantly texting each other, and the texts appear on screens surrounding the stage. The older women communicate with long, convoluted heart-rendering monologues and the younger women with "Where r u?" and "R u up?"

For us, the wonderful Joy Carlin may be a bit miscast here -- she is supposed to be weak and distraught, but it is not easy to even write "weak" and "Joy Carlin" in the same sentence.

Everybody has issues. Magz has pain issues. Suze has recognition issues. Daughters have issues with moms, moms with daughters. There are some sexual identity issues hinted at, as well as the larger themes of birdwatching and global warming, but these are minor. Clarvoe is talking about growing older and wiser, being faced with the unavoidable loss of your piece of paradise, and then sitting back on the sofa and letting the oceans rise.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼ ?

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards division awards "Our Practical Heaven" Three Stars with a Question Mark. One star is for the actors, particularly Julia Brothers, Anne Darragh and Adrienne Walters, though all six women have strong roles. A second star is for the concept -- the passing of time as evidenced by rising seas and lowering expectations. The third is because as this show gathers itself we believe there will be less talk and a little more walk. Each character must find her own self, instead of being simply part of an ensemble. This is particularly true for Suze and Magz, who are on different paths that we want to know more about.

The question mark is only for the title. What does "Our Practical Heaven" mean, anyway? We're sure Clarvoe can fish up something without the word "practical."

"Our Practical Heaven"
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through March 3

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