A haunt­ing snap­shot of South­ern myth, life

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Stage - By Christo­pher Blank

Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

Voices of the South is that rare the­ater com­pany that not only cre­ates new work reg­u­larly, it also cre­ates as­ton­ish­ing work.

The best de­scrip­tion of “Ci­cada,” a new orig­i­nal play run­ning at TheatreWorks through Sept. 6, is po­etry for the eyes, ears and soul.

Steeped in the mythol­ogy and ro­mance of ru­ral South­ern cul­ture, the play cap­tures a mag­nif­i­cent sense of at­mos­phere without re­sort­ing to old sorghum stereotypes. Only a com­pany so de­voted to the lit­er­ary “voice of the South” can pro­duce a drama so densely packed with Welty-es­que prose (mi­mosa trees, rum­bling trains, lonely women, ghosts of the past, swel­ter­ing sum­mers, evan­ge­lists on the ra­dio, ci­cadas at night) and also make you feel com­pletely con­nected to it. Like Thorn­ton Wilder’s “Our Town,” the bro­ken home in “Ci­cada” is a place every­one knows in their hearts, even if they’ve never been there.

From first to last, “Ci­cada” feels like a clas­sic South­ern ghost story. A young man, Ace (Adam Mal­don­ado), lives with his mother in an old house. Ever since Dad left, Lily has grad­u­ally lost her mind. It’s sum­mer, and the ghosts are start­ing to ap­pear. They’re all women, bare­foot and in sim­ple house dresses, much like Lily.

In one sense, it’s as if writer, artis­tic di­rec­tor and Mis­sis­sippi na­tive Jerre Dye opened his sketch­book and the im­agery tum­bled out into this haunt­ing snap­shot of life. His set de­sign is sim­ple but ef­fec­tive: white sheets pinned to a clothes­line, an at­tic full of dusty cast-offs, a small kitchen ta­ble with an ash­tray.

As Lily, Alice Berry is fully in­vested in one of her most de­mand­ing roles to date. Her feel­ings of aban­don­ment and loss man­i­fest them­selves in fright­en­ing out­bursts.

Across the street lives LaNora, a self-de­scribed “mean old woman” who can “bite a nail in two.” She is also haunted, locked in can­tan­ker­ous de­bate with her late hus­band (Steve Swift). It’s an in­cred­i­ble role for Ce­celia Win­gate, who, with heart­break­ing re­al­ity, cap­tures the rhythm and tragi­comic com­plex­ity of Dye’s south­ern ver­nac­u­lar.

As is much of South­ern lit­er­a­ture, “Ci­cada” is dually in­formed by Greek tragedy and gothic ro­mance. The young di­rec­tor, Les­lie Barker, also raised in Mis­sis­sippi, has staged an im­pres­sive blend of both. Her ghostly cho­rus in­fests the house like spi­ders, weav­ing a tapestry of sil­hou­ettes upon the bed­sheets and haunt­ing melodies on a jan­gly pi­ano.

Voices of the South is per­haps best known for its hi­lar­i­ous come­dies (the Sis­ter My­otis se­ries of shows), and vivid chil­dren’s the­ater adap­ta­tions (“The Ugly Duckling”). But “Ci­cada” ex­em­pli­fies the cal­iber of the com­pany’s creative team in a dra­matic un­der­tak­ing. It’s in­spir­ing the­ater by an in­spi­ra­tional group of artists.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.