Ed Sink (Chris Henry Coffey) owns a family furniture store in a North Carolina town. He’s also a well meaning County Commissioner. “You currently have 27 messages…” At the top of Ed’s community-minded wish list is a public swimming pool whose budget he’s trying to push through. Separated from a bipolar wife, he spends his days going back and forth from store to office. We infer no other life activities. He’s a well grounded man, showing few signs of emotional stress.
Two women are about to effect a shift in his life. The first is Ed’s 19 year-old daughter, Hannah (Anna Lentz), who shows up from school unannounced asking to stay with him rather than her mother. Affection is palpable. Hannah ostensibly needs $500 for unpaid parking tickets. Her father writes a check. We know she’s not telling him the truth.
The second is Miriam (Christine Bruno), the daughter of a recently deceased constituent who’s arrived from New York to sell her mother’s house only to discover route plans for a new Beltway may make it worthless. Miriam has cerebral palsy, as does the actress who portrays her. Both other characters register the infirmity which may affect response to her, but not a word is said. Casting is considered, not novelty.
Miriam and her husband need the money – for something specific. She visits Ed’s office and persistently follows up in hopes of either getting the roadway slightly diverted or securing promise for compensation. Changing the map would eliminate Ed’s pet project and recompense within a tight budget is problematic. His heart’s in the right place, but actually helping the petitioner is problematic. (Only the audience is aware of why she needs the money.)
Hannah hears Miriam chewing out her father and attaches herself to the older woman perceiving her as strong and independent. Unable to approach either of her parents on a delicate moral matter, she asks for assistance (and succor) from the stranger, who gives it without judgment. (Don’t you wish you knew these people?) Eventually Hannah tells Ed.
Chris Henry Coffey (Ed) is warm, sympathetic, and credible throughout. The actor presents ease onstage and manages to be gentle without seeming weak. He listens.
Christine Bruno (Miriam) offers a layered portrait whose intellect comes through as clearly as manifest emotion.
As Hannah, Anna Lentz is uneven. We don’t quite believe the gravity of her crisis. Need for what Miriam represents and wariness of her father’s condemnation reads true.
Playwright Bekah Brunstetter (This Is Us, The Cake) has written a piece about overcoming personal bias to exert our better selves. Each character begins the story with preconceptions about the other which are then invalidated. Except that Hannah trusts a stranger too quickly, the play is appealingly low key and realistic. It’s also a positive take on humanity’s basic instincts, something in short supply these days.
Director Geordie Broadwater handles frequent entrances and exits with good timing and innate purpose, emphasizing the vicissitudes of character’s lives. In fact, nothing on stage looks or sounds false except slightly fluctuating accents.
Edward T. Morris’ Scenic Design cleverly and smoothly manifests interiors behind revolving segments of a white picket fence. I don’t understand why art of clouds and sky above is slatted like a roof.
Sound Design by Sam Crawford features well chosen soft rock songs between scenes, adding southern charm and normalcy – lack of obvious theatrical device.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Christine Bruno (Miriam) and Chris Henry Coffey (Ed)
TBTB-Theater Breaking Through Barriers presents
Public Servant by Bekah Brunstetter
Directed by Geordie Broadwater
Clurman Theater at Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
Through June 29, 2019