Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sound Theatre's "A Small Fire" is a little jewel in a jewelbox

Teri Lazzara and Sara Coates in A Small Fire (photo by Ken Holmes)
A Small Fire
by Adam Bock
directed by Julie Beckman
starring Teri Lazzara, Gordon Carpenter, Sara Coates, Ray Tagavilla
Sound Theatre Company
(at New City Theater, 18th and Union)
through June 21

Sound Theatre Company's season is set to examine the language of love and hate, they say, and their first production, A Small Fire, exhibits both in a searing exploration of family relationships during the height of illness.

The play by Adam Bock creates a brusk, non-nonsense woman (Teri Lazarra) whose feelings are so deeply buried that she doesn't have time to find them. She treats people with a no-nonsense air and a hurried manner that makes them feel like they're in her way. Her daughter (Sara Coates) has a lifetime of hurt from her mother's truth-hurts unboundaried comments, especially about her fiance. Her daughter even thinks that her father (Gordon Carpenter) should leave her mother and be happier without being berated by this demanding woman.

It remains for a co-worker, Billy (Ray Tagavilla) to demonstrate to us how much care is covered up by her brusk manner, as he details how she showed her belief in him by watching over him, yelling at him, and having others make him stick to his work or keep him from straying off the straight and narrow.

The play has her lose her senses, first smell (which is related to taste) and then hearing and then sight. As she deepens her dependence on her family, she is finally forced to reveal her feelings, as her ability to manage alone leaves her.

Directed with sensitivity by Julie Beckman, the subtleties of the relationships are made clear. Every single actor does great work in this ensemble and I have to say that Carpenter does some of the best work I've ever seen. Lazarra clearly leads the way, with a layered and restrained performance, but each character is fully realized and portrayed.

Also, the space considerations at New City Theater are particularly challenging (they used to call it The Shoebox) and Montana Tippett's set design is the perfect fit, using three sets of curtains to delineate three different locations (fabulous minimalism) but not stinting on a comfortable living room/bedroom area of a comfortable family home.

I thought, from the description, that this would be a difficult play to watch with such a dark story, but it was fresh and accessible and even occasionally funny. Don't miss this. It's a great start to Sound Theatre Company's exploration of love and hate.

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