Director – Harry Parker
Stage Manager – Sarahi Salazar
Props Design – Kimberlee Cantrell
Set Design – Clare Floyd DeVries
Sound Design – David H.M. Lambert
Lighting Design – John Leach
Costume Design – Sarah Tonemah
Jill – Sophie Lee Morris
Steve – Jeff Wittekiend
Peter – Justin Flowers
Marty – Ben Phillips
Tanya – Jennifer Engler
Barb – Lexie Showalter
Hal – Brad Stephens
Nan – Susan Riley
Douglas – Robert Michael James
Reviewed Performance 6/21/2014
Reviewed by Elaine Plybon, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Hope & Gravity is a newcomer to the stage, having its debut May, 2014 at City Theatre Company in Pittsburgh, PA. Its playwright, Michael Hollinger, has an orchestral background and the script he penned for Hope & Gravity flowed as a symphony, with characters whose lives intertwined with both harmony and dissonance. Circle Theatre’s production of Hope & Gravity brought the well-written script to the stage to delight its audience with its simplicity and depth. According to the author’s note in the playbill, Hollinger originally set out to create a play which brought together ten of his short plays into one piece, but ended up creating a mostly new play surrounding nine characters.
The plot follows those characters through small periods in their lives to weave a story of love, dishonesty, pain, and hope. The characters all have something to tie them together; some work in the same location, others are in tangled relationships.
Hollinger’s abilities as a playwright, as evidenced by this script, are superlative. The dialogue was always meaningful and natural. The story told through that dialogue was intriguing, funny and very relevant to today’s society. Standing alone, the script itself would be an enjoyable read. Circle Theatre will host Mr. Hollinger at the July 12th performance and audience members will have the opportunity to hear about his vision for the play and ask questions during the “talk after”.
The minimalist set was rather empty at the beginning of the play, with only scrims on either side of the black box theatre, draped from the ceiling to the back wall and another suspended from the ceiling and stretched across a frame resembling a window. Screens on either side were used to provide the title of each scene.
Lighting design by John Leach included a cleverly placed spotlight above the frame which created the illusion of a lit elevator below. It was within this square that any elevator scenes were performed. Leach’s design also included subtle but effective lighting changes from amber to rose, followed by blue to blackout, to signal the end of each scene. Even these changes became a part of the story, suggesting action continuing past each scene.
Sound design by David H.M. Lambert consisted of expertly placed effects such as buzzers, phone rings, and other sounds as needed to enhance the story. Each sound was perfectly placed and the timing on the night I was in the audience was superb.
Director Harry Parker assembled a cast that had wonderful chemistry together, and each actor was a perfect fit for his/her character. As I watched each scene, there was nothing better that could have been done. Each member of the cast had high energy and performed exceedingly well.
The role of Jill, a student and a roommate to Steve, is played by Sophie Lee Morris. Morris displayed exactly the right emotions at all the right times throughout the play. This role is one that is seen frequently on stage and Morris added energy and youthful vibrancy to the action whether moving across the stage in search of a cell phone signal or quoting poetry.
Another frequently seen character, Steve, was portrayed by Jeff Wittekiend. Roommate to Jill and boyfriend to Barb, Steve’s biggest fear was to be forced into a career in advertising and wasting his considerable writing talents. Wittekiend was highly believable as an intellectual poet. His facial expressions and body language often told more of the story than what we gleaned from dialogue. Particularly telling were his slumped shoulders and downcast demeanor at the culmination of the play.
Morris and Wittekiend had a great chemistry together. Whether talking as roommates, discovering a deeper affection for each other, or being kind to a forgetful professor, their performances were constantly in sync.
The role of Peter, who is a dentist with a bad habit, was expertly played by Justin Flowers. Many of the heartiest laughs from the audience came from Flowers’ great comedic timing and deadpan look. This role also requires an ability to portray a variety of facets of the character and Flowers transitioned through all of his scenes with clarity.
Another source of audience laughter came from the character of Marty, an elevator repairman. In this role, Ben Phillips became the focal point of the action, often upstaging the others, but in a way that was dictated by the situation. I particularly enjoyed the elevator scene with Phillips, Wittekiend, Morris and Flowers cramped into the elevator and having the sort of conversation that often occurs there with strangers.
Jennifer Engler, as Tanya, delivered a solid performance as the harried housewife with hopes of becoming a mother. Through tense facial expressions and a generally hurried composure, Engler was convincing in her role.
“Black-toothed” Barb was smartly portrayed by Lexie Showalter. As a school secretary and as the love interest of Steve, her line delivery was perfectly timed. As she processed the emotions of various scenes, her expressions and movement were matter-of-fact and crisp, just as the role demanded. One of the funniest scenes in the play involved Barb and Peter as they discover “The Truth” about each other while attending a self-help seminar.
Brad Stephens played Hal, an assistant principal and husband to Tanya. Stephens portrayed him as a somewhat unstable hypochondriac and believer in “signs”, which fit exactly for the role of Hal. His effective use of props at hand, including his own shirt, added a lot of the laughter for the performance. Stephens can now also add an impressive ability to expertly draw images upside-down after performing this role.
Susan Riley played Nan, a school nurse and wife of Marty. Her role dictated she step into three facets of one life, and Riley expertly transitioned from one to another through slight differences in the lilt of her voice and her posture. Her demeanor always fit the situations in which Nan found herself.
Robert Michael James as the professor, Douglas, delivered his lines deftly. His movements and emotions, combined with the intonation of his voice, delivered the right amount of absent-mindedness and wonder to make this character a delight.
The characters in Hope & Gravity have relationships which intertwine like a web, reflecting the lives of these ordinary people. The play, though, is far from ordinary, with a great script, an excellent cast, and a crew that kept everything running exactly as planned by a talented director. It is always refreshing to see a new play, but I found this one definitely worth seeing again and again
HOPE & GRAVITY
230 W. 4th St.
Ft. Worth, TX. 76102
Plays through July 19th
Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday - Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Saturday matinee at 3:00 pm
There is no performance on Friday, July 4th.
Tickets are $15.00-$35.00, depending on the day and time.
Students, seniors, military, and groups of 10 or more receive a $5.00 discount per ticket. Student rush tickets are half price thirty minutes before curtain time with valid school ID.
For information and to purchase tickets, visit www.circletheatre.com or call their box office at 817-877-3040.