(W)hole, by local playwright Tracy Shaffer, takes place in modern-day New York City, and tells the story of a painter (Ames) who works hard to keep her iffy career and failing marriage alive in an attempt to keep the shaky structure of her life in place. As Ames tries to resist her model Carla’s almost obsessive attempts for a personal relationship with her, things get even more interesting when Ames meets Carla’s ex-husband (a man for whom her attraction is clearly evident). Both relationships evolve and change, while Ames’ relationship with her absentee husband deteriorates, and eventually it all comes to a head. Some will spot the twist ending from a mile away and some will be shocked once the truth comes out.
Modern Script Weaves a Tangled Web
HE SAID: Ames’ life is crumbling down around her and she, like most of us would, is trying to maintain some level of control. For most of the show, she tortures herself by trying to save an already fallen house of cards. Although she is the focus of the show, she really is mostly a responsive character, meaning she is simply reacting to the people and situations in her life. But it isn’t until it all hits the fan that she finally becomes an active player in the story and gets that control she is looking for. She breaks the structure and rebuilds.
SHE SAID: I thought the plot was carefully structured, and I was entertained by the way that the characters’ lives became more and more intertwined, but I thought the real strength of the writing was demonstrated in each of the characters individually. All three arguably represent a bit of a stereotype, but none of them seemed one-dimensional. Instead, the writing was so modern and natural that every character was both complicated and likable.
Rich Characters are Brought to Life by Strong Performers
HE SAID: The characters were so well-defined that I bet you could easily do a few small re-writes and you would have a play about Carla or Hart. Not every play has such rich characters that the audience believes each person has a full life outside of the scene. Granted, this show has been years in the making, but so many world premieres don’t have the well-developed characters found in this production. But, the real accomplishment is that, as fully developed all the characters are, this is clearly Ames’ story and I never lost that connection to her struggle and journey.
SHE SAID: All three actors in this show did an incredible job with an intense piece. While John Hoff as Hart gave a natural and enjoyable performance, this play really belonged to the women. Carolyn Valentine as Ames gave an incredibly nuanced performance – she was both grounded and somewhat shaken, confident while allowing for moments of insecurity. Lucianne Lajoie’s performance as Carla was also satisfyingly complex. Although it would have been easy for her to focus on the manipulative, self-centered aspect of the character, she gave a charismatic and ultimately well-rounded performance.
Silent Scenes and Simple Set Complete Engaging Piece
HE SAID: With a cast of three and a one room set, it can be hard to keep a story moving and visually dynamic. Often times directors will over-stage a show for fear that a moment will become stale, especially if there is no dialogue. I applaud director Michael Stricker for giving the silent moments the time they deserved by trusting the script and performers to keep up the action . Valentine especially proved that a good actor knows there is difference between “being still/silent” and “doing nothing”. Each moment was believable because she was engaged, processing, and feeling every second in this play. It was fantastic to watch.
SHE SAID: I thought that the scenic design (by David LaFont) was really gorgeous, and instantly expressed Ames’s quest for detached inspiration in her artist’s studio. I especially enjoyed the fully functional rolling warehouse-style door, which was well used throughout and helped make the space believably usable. I also thought that it was clever to use the set crew as Ames’s professional movers to speed up the scene changes that made the studio more and more of her living space.
Risky Premiere Pays Off for Paragon
THEY SAID: As the director’s notes mention, doing a world premiere in theatre is risky because the average theatre-goer is apprehensive about seeing shows that have no history. Well, this risk certainly has paid off for Paragon and they can add this play to their own history of success. Coming off of the INCREDIBLE production of The Real Thing (critque HERE), Paragon has another wonderful piece of work and we would recommend that any theatre-lover see it.
***PARENTAL DISCRETION IS ADVISED – ADULT THEMES AND NUDITY
(W)hole presented by Paragon Theatre Ensemble plays through November 20 at the Kim Robards Dance Studio. Click the banner below for tickets and more information.