The latest workshop piece by Black Theater Ensemble, “That Face,” is a production that speaks to the underlying dynamics that a family experiences when the ups and downs of love, addiction, guilt, abandonment and loyalty all culminate in a matter of moments.
“[It is] about what happens under the surface – the things that we don’t talk about, or don’t admit to ourselves,” Director Alice Neave (COL ’16) said.
Mia, played by Natalie Caceres (MSB ’16), finds herself back at home from the drama of boarding school to find what is left of a familial structure. Her brother, Henry, played by Nick Phalen (SFS ’16), is disappointed daily by their mother’s habitual relapses onto the dark road of alcoholism. Martha, played by Michaela Farrell (COL ’18), may have her disturbing bouts with alcohol, yet it is clear that she loves her son like no other.
It is unclear what originally sparked the disdain Mia and Martha have for each other, but it is clear that they will not be exchanging pleasantries anytime soon. Henry is left standing between them, an intermediary, their caretaker, lacking the energy to put out the fires that constantly spark between the two.
As Hugh, Henry and Mia’s dad, played by Grayson Ullman (COL ’16), emerges onto the scene, more skeletons are brought out of the closest and dismay ensues for all. Different alliances rise to the surface as past wounds are torn open, yet no one character seems to be completely without grievances against the rest of the members of the family.
To call the twists and turns of the familial relationships complex would be an understatement. It is intricately messy yet understandable to the audience, who witnesses the storms of past and present, of love and betrayal, and of the human experience.
The set is intriguingly simplistic and unexpectedly versatile. Boredom never crosses the mind when watching as the set constantly transforms itself, one scene after another. It offers no unnecessary distractions and captures the audience’s attention, allowing for the focus to be placed on the brilliantly vibrant emotion of the actors.
The snide arrogance of Izzy, Mia’s floor mate, played by Salma Khamis (SFS ’17), makes the audience feel as if they were living in that dorm hall at the prestigious, all-girls boarding school that was ruled by the instructors by day and Izzy’s wrath by night. The anger of a father plagued by failure, disappointment and guilt could not be portrayed any more vividly than by Grayson Ullman. At times, Hugh’s emotions run so high that it seems as though the entire audience is being scolded by their own father.
The portrayal of Mia and Henry does justice to a brother and sister’s relationship that is bashed, bruised and strained but never broken. Mia grows up right before the audience’s eyes and, to her own astonishment, realizes perspectives can change drastically once she steps outside the walls of her boarding school.
When asked about a favorite moment, Caceres spoke to the chemistry of the cast.
“We were on our feet and connecting to each other in such a beautiful way that the play just took on new meaning,” Caceres said.
Enough cannot be said about the performance of Martha. The depiction of a woman plagued by alcoholism, devoted to her son and deserted by her husband captivates the audience from start to finish.
When asked about the struggles of playing an older woman, Farrell said, “Playing a woman that is much older is hard when you’ve been told you look 14.”
You would never guess it, but this play was put together in less than a month and was originally scheduled to just be a staged reading.
“That is unheard of but we were determined to make it a full production,” Caceres said.
With such amazing portrayals of such diverse relationships between each of the characters, it is truly impressive that the play was put on in such a short period of time.
“People should see this play because it opens a dialogue that is perpetually sealed,” Farrell said. “I am proud to be in this show because it pushes the boundaries and speaks to people who need the words.”
And she is right. People should absolutely see the show. It is a complex, relatable work of art, put on by actors who have an extremely talented range of emotions and a directing staff with a profound vision of bringing to life the unspoken dialogue between us all that will leave you introspective and entertained.
“That Face” will be on stage tonight at 8 p.m. and on Saturday Feb. 14 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Walsh Black Box Theatre.