I am so thankful I had the opportunity to finally see “Alabaster,” a play that kicks off the 2022-21 season on the Russell Stage at the Phoenix Theatre, before it closes on Sunday, October 31. A National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere by Audrey Cefaly, the play is billed as “a darkly comic, Southern drama about love, art, and the power of women.” It is all those things and much, much more. Making the evening very special was the fact that it was the first play I had seen in over 500 days. Coincidentally, the last one I saw before the pandemic, “The Agitators,” was also at The Phoenix.
Superbly directed by Jolene Mentink Moffatt, who herself is one of Indy’s finest actors, the production featured an ensemble of actors who all turned in compelling individual performances and together, as an ensemble, they collectively shined, often times brilliantly. The cast includes Lauren Briggeman (who also starred in “The Agitators”), Maria Argentina Souza, Joanne Kehoe and Jan Lucas.
Exploring the meaning of art and the obstacles and tribulations faced by the damaged and wounded human beings who create it, the offbeat play’s storyline is as intriguing as it is disturbing. After a deadly twister roars through the town of Alabaster, Alabama, only June (Souza), a folk artist, and her pet goats Weezy (Kehoe) and Bib (Grimm) remain. When Alice (Briggeman), a famous New York-based photographer, visits to take pictures of June’s scars for a photo exhibit, both are forced to deal with their separate traumas and the profound pain they are experiencing. June suffers from agoraphobia and PTSD from the tornado and Alice, a lesbian who carries the baggage of her own tragic past, attempt to move past their anguish and heartbreak together, and find recovery.
Briggeman, a noted actor ho is also the artistic director of Summit Performance Indianapolis, turns in yet another nuanced performance as Alice, the gifted photographer who outwardly conveys confidence and independence, but inwardly battles with profound loss she hasn’t dealt with.
Souza, who holds an MFA from the Actors Studio Drama School and has Off-Broadway credits, illustrated why she possesses these prestigious credentials in an often-searing performance as scar-covered June, who also carries emotional scars that are crippling. The caustic intensity and contrasting vulnerability conveyed in her performance was, at times, simply stunning in its intensity and honesty.
Kehoe’s performance as Weezy, June’s wisecracking, yet loyal and protective goat, was highly entertaining and resonated with me and the entire audience for her delivery of some of the script’s funniest lines. The program said this was Kehoe’s first appearance on stage in 20 years. Let’s hope she doesn’t stay away that long again because she has a comedic talent that deserves more exposure.
Lucas, as the other goat who is Weezy’s mother, demonstrated why she is also one of Indy’s preeminent character actors. Making only occasional sounds mimicking a goat, Lucas, through the use of her body language, communicated a range of emotions that endowed Bib with human qualities that made her endearing.
Credit for creating the stylized environment depicting June’s scarred physical surroundings goes to production manager Zac Hunter, lighting designer Laura Glover, costume designer Lauren Kreigh and sound designer Ben Tobler. All are among Indy’s premiere theatre craftspeople.
For tickets and information about the remaining performances of “Alabaster,” visit phoenixtheatre.org.