IF YOU GO
What: Father and adult children work through their issues
When: 8 p.m. Wed. - Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun. through
Where: 1055 N. Collier Blvd. Marco Island
Cost: $25 & $23
Information: Call 642-7270 or themarcoplayers.com
Something Else: The theater is located in the Marco Town Center Mall next to Marco Island Brewery.
On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog
1055 North Collier Boulevard, Marco
An apple tree blooms in Marco. The Marco Players opened their season with touching, twisty Zoe Kazan drama "Absalom" Wednesday. The biblical Gordian knot of a play unwinds on stage in touching fashion until the pressure-cooker of family drama explodes.
"Absalom" finds two brothers and a sister (writers all) gathering at a quaint idyll in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. They celebrate the latest literary tome from father Saul. Long lost adopted brother Cole Maddox (yep, he's real MAD) drops in uninvited. (Or was he?) Cue the drama.
Marco Players president and artistic director Beverly Dahlstrom selected the play, pointing to the universal themes. Patrons in the audience can identify with any one of the characters or understand the ideas of brothers feuding or a sister trapped taking care of a near-invalid father.
Director Richard E. Joyce finds a fistful of heartfelt, touching performances in his cadre of newcomers and veteran amateurs. Watch the show for their work alone. Or see how Kazan spins the gears inside the wheels inside the dials of her show.
Much of the house sat silent and engrossed Wednesday. I listened as the crowd filed out at intermission chattering "I liked it." And I eavesdropped as the audience tried to figure which plots were being laid, which traps were being sprung and … maybe … who was sleeping with who.
Kazan litters the play with subtext - everything from Eve picking "the" apple to the Judgement of Solomon to a pack of wolves. Here lie the answers, if there are indeed any. Families are messy. Families wage titanic internal struggles - and then like wolves, close ranks to survive.
Where did Valentina Cioce come from? In her Marco Players debut, the actress finds a sharp, frosty angle to wicked sister-in-law Julia. Joyce sees the character as a manipulative witch - and Cioce delivers. Watch for her catty snarls and wicked put-downs. Look too for newcomer Jesse Heindl in a delightful turn as forgotten brother Teddy.
Joe Lang, pressed into acting just a few years ago by wife Lisa and now a veteran, sparkles as the bitter, angry Cole. Looking natty in a trim tuxedo, he spits out the recriminations that led to the character's 12-year exile and tries to build bridges. His scenes with Cioce and Rich Nepon's fiery father Saul ring with tension. Look for Nepon's tearful, gasping moment of closure.
Greg Madera brings honesty and truth to broken older brother Adam, suffering from writer's block after a personal tragedy. On stage for much of the night, he communicates the play's desperate need for families to offer emotional as well as financial support. Look too for Alexis Michel Angelo, making a caring, sweet debut as put-upon sister Sophia.
Dollar for dollar, Jim Swanker and Jan Weiss do some of the best design and decorating work in Southwest Florida on the smallest budget. The Marco Players matchbox-size space in the Marco Town Center Mall looks as much like a tiny slice of the Berkshires as you're likely to find. It just never escapes feeling as if we're all a bit trapped instead of lounging on an expansive lawn.
I love the super-realistic apple tree. Yes, the apple "means something." Kazan has Sophie, a female and the play's most innocent character, climb into the branches to pluck fruit from a symbolic "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil." The fruit literally hangs over the set (as do the play's shattering lies and betrayal). Yet, in making the tree (and a trellis) so central, it blocks a gorgeous back wall depicting water and a shoreline - which would have added acres of depth to the cramped space.
There's lots to love in this smart, interesting evening - but the show just hasn't come together yet. I'd love to see the play again after a few weeks of performances (and with a much bigger - or reconfigured - set). Appreciate the beautiful acting and engaging performances from newcomers and veterans alike. And pray your family isn't like this pack of bloodthirsty wolves.
"The book's been kicking around for years." Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.