Matthew J. Palm: Play shows it’s easy to label, dismiss others.
Length: 2:15, including intermission
Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $18, $15 students, seniors, military
One of the fascinating aspects of theater is how it makes you ask yourself questions you have never considered: Would I live in a house where a mass murderer lived?
That’s the thought writer John Bavoso plants in the audience’s mind at the start of “Blight,” making its world premiere in a production by Orlando’s Playwrights’ Round Table. Bavoso has a lot going on in his contemporary drama: A mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility, a lesbian couple at a crossroads about having children, neighbors on opposite ends of the political spectrum and above all, the question of whether a place can ever escape its past.
This is all compelling stuff, even when PRT’s production values can’t rise to the strength of the material. And Bavoso holds his story tightly together until very near the end, when the plot strands become too diffuse and he risks falling into melodrama.
Kate Murray’s direction and pacing don’t always work with the play’s growing sense of urgency, and the low-tech lighting hampers the production’s ability to create the feeling of dread that hangs over the house at the center of the story.
It’s a house recently purchased by Silvia and Cat, who have left the big city behind for small-town life — Cat, somewhat unwillingly. But it’s also the house where Kristopher grew up — and where he planned his attack on Planned Parenthood.
Bavoso’s script cleverly alternates and overlaps between the present and the past — sometimes in a poetic, ghost-story way — which makes it more puzzling why PRT chose to make the scenery so literal, sapping momentum with numerous scene changes.
The engine of the show is the perfectly pitched performance by Kisheera Victrum as brusque and selfconfident Silvia. Victrum makes every facet of Silvia’s personality ring true. As her meek wife, Cat, Lindsi Jeter shows why Silvia would have fallen for her, though she doesn’t quite sell the scene late in the game when Cat finds her voice. Jim Cundiff has a nice turn as a suspiciously helpful property appraiser, and Isabel Babel is convincing as Kristopher, an awkward boy adrift.
Throughout the play, Bavoso does a remarkable job of showing us reasons why Kristopher might have carried out his heinous act — without excusing him. And it’s refreshing to see a man of faith, who stands against abortion, written with dignity and realism (John Hardy plays him with an appealing everyday air).
In “Blight,” the word “monster” gets thrown in every direction. But this play reminds us that it’s easy to label people and then dismiss them as enemies. Looking for our common humanity is much more difficult.
Lindsi Jeter, left, and Kisheera Victrum get in over their heads when they buy a home in “Blight,” John Bavoso’s play presented by Orlando’s Playwrights’ Round Table.