By: Anita W. Harris
What could be more explosive than a holiday family gathering? In Kings & Fools, a Panndora Productions drama having its world premiere at The Garage Theatre through May 28, places you in the Alman family’s typical American back yard to experience the poignant and riveting answer.
Ably directed by local theatre veteran Derek Long, this sharply written play by Kevin Daly highlights two days for the Alman family, beginning with a fireworks-laden Labor Day during which strong emotions simmer briskly before boiling over. At the center of the conflict is an unspoken rift over broken trust between David (Nick Emmett McGee) and Allan (Joshua Evans), two brothers from this working-class family in a New York suburb.
Communication challenges also affect their parents, the steadfast Sam (Pete Taylor) and adorably maternal Mary Ellen (Rebecca Taylor), who do their best to hold the family together as its members, including Allan’s wife Rachel (Erin Henriques), threaten to splinter off from their lives. Their tight knit community is epitomized by their neighbors, nosy George (Kevin Ragsdale) and Russian immigrant Boris (Erik Pfeifer), and is provincialized through the eyes of David’s visiting girlfriend, the Jewish and vegan Carmen (Caitlin Lowerre).
The sympathetic main characters wear their hearts on their sleeves as palpably as the New York accents on their tongues. David has clearly run away to the big city from something besides his failed marriage. Allan drinks destructively, his behavior seemingly compounded by estrangement from his brother. Father Sam buries his feelings beneath silence and fence building. And mother Mary Ellen just wants to feed everyone her love, becoming visibly wounded when her cooking is rejected.
All of the actors brilliantly embody their characters, sustaining all of these intense feelings. By the end of the play, having given every bit of themselves to their characters’ plights, they seem as emotionally drained as the audience. Pete Taylor as Sam and Rebecca Taylor as Mary Ellen are especially endearing as they endure their characters’ heartbreaking upheavals.
The well-designed backyard set (by Yuri Okahana) allows for plenty of movement by all eight characters in the cozy space of The Garage Theatre, making use of a back porch door and side spaces that allow characters to enter and exit the turfed yard. Lighting (McLeod Benson) and sound (Long, Karen Wray) also simply and effectively evoke fireworks and news broadcasts, expanding the dimensions of the stage by engaging our other senses.
In Kings and Fools will at times leave you breathless with its suspense while chuckling aloud at its humor. Its ultimate tender poignancy will make you wish you had a tissue to dab your eyes. With such strong writing and performing, you won’t want to miss this powerful production of a truly American story.
In Kings and Fools continues at The Garage Theatre, 251 E. 7th Street, through May 28, with performances Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $15-$25. For tickets and information, visit panndoraproductions.com. For questions, call Panndora Productions at (323) 377-2988.