The newly-christened Welders playwright collective has burst confidently onto the DC theater landscape with its daring debut of The Carolina Layaway Grail. In a cozy side room of the Atlas Performing Arts Center, the Welders have blended country soul, big city hustle, and magical realism into an enchanting tale of love and self-determination. This assured debut paints a picture of a veteran collective at the top of its game, rather than a neophyte group struggling to find its place in the regional pecking order.
Grail starts simply enough, with protagonist Diana relating details of her quiet city life and quirky southern roots against a patterned backdrop of olive drapery. As Diana, the versatile Nora Achrati proves herself to be an engaging and articulate narrator with a knack for comic timing, which serves her and the audience well throughout writer Allyson Currin’s fantastical yarn.
Diana is soon joined by Duck, her crotchety grandfather, played by the affable Michael John Casey. Duck is a salty World War II vet who only reads the dictionary and maintains a steadfast belief in fairies and a glass globe that contains the souls of his ancestors. Casey shines within this unique blend of gruff veteran and old-world mystic, doling out idiosyncratic advice to Diana and sparring in hilarious insult battles with his nurse, Killer.
As Duck’s caretaker, Karen Lange underpins off-color jokes with genuine affection for her cantankerous patient. Duck and Karen reveal Currin’s aptitude for bending archetypes in interesting new directions, which she uses throughout Grail to keep the audience on its toes.
Soon, the play abruptly pivots from Diana’s southern hometown to a bewildering cityscape inhabited by bizarre figures – none more bizarre than Nick Pinto’s Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper appears as an amalgam of sparkly drag queen and ice cold maitre d’, thwarting Diana as she tries to find her bearings and Duck’s lost globe. I was just as confused as Diana by the Gatekeeper’s cryptic pronouncements about a “List” and a “Giant”, but the initial confusion made the later revelations all the more rewarding.
THE CAROLINA LAYAWAY GRAIL
Closes April 5, 2014
The Welders at
Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
1 hour, 45 minutes with intermission
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
Director Sonya Robbins has lead a remarkable debut for the Welders, given the ambitious demands of the script, the small performance space, and the general growing pains expected of a brand new dramatic group. She has marshalled her game cast and design team, headlined by Lighting Designer Jason Arnold’s evocative world-building, toward a production that feels both intimate and infinite. All the pieces combine into a unique and surprisingly affecting dramatic experience. While I agree in principle with Duck’s lesson that “the Journey – not the Destination – is all that matters”, I’d make one exception for Grail: On the Welders’ promising artistic path, this destination is well worth celebrating.
The Carolina Layaway Grail by Allyson Currin . Directed by Sonya Robbins . Featuring MJ Casey, Nora Achrati, Karen Lange, Jacob Yeh, Nick DePinto, and Jaysen Wright. Assistant Director: Julia O’Connor . Set Designer: John Bowhers . Costume Designer: Gail Beach . Lighting Designer: Jason Arnold . Sound Designer: Elisheba Ittoop . Properties Master: Mary Seng . Produced by The Welders . Reviewed by Ben Demers.