Gertie Stovall is a middle-aged woman who lives alone in a dilapidated farmhouse that is on the verge of foreclosure. She’s a spunky free spirit who is beloved in the community despite her propensity to threaten trespassers with a nonfunctional rifle. When she discovers a massive cave under the property, she believes that it is a gift from God that will relieve her plight. Other people have different agendas for her cave and those conflicts propel Cavers, a thoughtful but uneven comedy from Nu Sass Productions being reprised at the fallFRINGE festival.
Gertie (Raven Bonniwell) is full of ideas for the cave. She thinks she would make a good tour guide and gift shop proprietor but is willing to consider other uses of the cave, such as storage of nuclear wastes. Bank loan officer Samantha (Carly J. Bales) wants to use a major cave chamber to put on a production of Godspell. A graduate student hired by Gertie named Charlie (Luke Cieslewicz) wants to protect the cave, while her half brother George (Tom Eisman) is more concerned about how the cave could impact the new wastewater plant he’s spend seven years building.
The pot is further stirred by the arrival of legendary spelunker Dr. Polly Eidelwiess (Aubri O’Connor), a powerhouse who claims to be hired by an energy company that owns the subsurface rights to the property. In time, we learn that she has her own agenda as she works to wheedle Charlie into serving her interests.
The conflicts between the characters allow for some comic musings on government, religion, evolution, property rights, and conservation. Gertie gets most of the good lines and makes the most of them. For example, Gertie’s view of laws is that “good people don’t need ‘em, bad people don’t obey ‘em.” Playwright Mark Rigney is ambitious in the number of topics he takes on, which is admirable even if some are not fully developed.
The production shoots for a moderately farcical tone and pace, but too often the players seem to be rushing through their lines. In particular, the character of Dr. Eidelwiess is given some major turns and shifting emotions that are not totally convincing, but Aubri O’Connor barrels along without fully selling the character’s conflicts.
The action is well-staged and there are some humorous moments. Raven Bonniwell is particularly entertaining as the rural eccentric, and the remainder of the cast is competent.
Yet the play never really takes flight as a farce, nor does it work as a rural comedy of manners. Because of the swift comic pacing, it also fails to give real importance to the conflicts of the characters and their ideals. The convenient and less than convincing conclusion does not contribute much to the success of the play.
While Cavers has it moments, it mostly just hints at the potential of the playwright’s talent and the ideas that animated this work. I will be eager to see his future work, and would be especially interested if Gertie rides again in another comedy.
Written by Mark Rigney
Directed by Hannah Todd
Produced by Nu Sass Productions
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
Cavers, which runs thru Nov 20 at Fort Fringe, 607 New York Ave, NW Washington, DC., is part of fallFringe, a reprise of 10 shows from the 2010 Capital Fringe Festival.
Details and tickets are here.