Saturday, April 15, 2017

Discover the “Unseen” at Taproot

Most of the cast of Evidence of Things Unseen (Erik Stuhaug)
Evidence of Things Unseen
Taproot Theatre
Through April 29, 2017

These days, a lot of attention is beginning to be paid to people with “unseen disabilities” and maybe, to some extent, that might be any one of us. We have tendencies to look at people and judge what we see, for better or ill. Have you ever seen someone use a disabled auto tag for parking and then seem to walk quickly and easily away from the vehicle? But perhaps you saw them take the only 100 comfortable (maybe pain-free) steps of their day. We don’t know. We can’t tell.

We all carry baggage and stories around with us, most of which are unseen. The world premiere play at Taproot Theatre, Evidence of Things Unseen by local playwright Katie Forgette, cracks open the secrets of a small family for us to discover.

Sisters Abigail (Christine Marie Brown) and Jane (Jenny Vaughn Hall) have been dealing with the death of their mother in very different ways. Abigail has been pushed away from her religious background and Jane has been pushed toward it. Their relationship has become rocky from those shifts. Since this issue is one of the key issues of the play, it seems that it becomes part of the unseen “things” that we would never know by looking at these sisters.

We gather that their mother died from a car accident and at the beginning of the play they meet their father for lunch in a park (Michael Winters as a genial and sometimes befuddled-by-dementia dad anyone would love to claim as their own). Due to his recent medical issues, they’d kept him from knowing of his wife’s death and dread telling him.

Even so, the family dynamic is allowed to unroll with a quiet energy as we get to know these characters. The dialogue is realistic and humorous and gentle. Dad wants to feed the ducks, they bicker over what’s for lunch.

These are all very smart characters. The sisters quote verbatim passages from now-less-known works of literature. And sometimes the Bible. At the heart of their family, though, is clearly love. Even strained, that is an aspect that continues to be clear.

There is another character we meet at the top of the show, when Abigail hovers outside an AA meeting but doesn’t go in, and meets a man, Daniel (Chip Wood), who offers support and encouragement. We think, then, that we know more about Abigail and Daniel that one can’t just “see” by looking: they’re both alcoholics. But later, Forgette upends what we think by giving us much more unseen evidence that we would never guess at first. It’s quite a story.

The production is the dependably solid presentation that Taproot is known for. Director Scott Nolte sure-handedly manages the rhythms of the piece and the deepening mysteries and unfoldings. The cast is all talented and the family feeling is apparent.

The Taproot stage is what is known as a “3/4 thrust” which means the audience sits on three sides of the small stage, and they are past masters of sets that fit. The set designer for this show is new to them. Amanda Sweger chose an abstract set design that maybe is supposed to be a “duck blind” in reference to dad Jack’s obsession with birds. However, while the outdoorsy table and benches work well, the wall of huge wood “feathers” (if that is what it is) is a distraction and overwhelms the visual presentation.

Otherwise, the play is one that feeds thought and contemplation. Forgette writes often about real life issues in a way that does not push a point of view toward the audience, but lets us explore our responses on our own. That’s a terrific writer!

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