The theatre knows its wars. From King Lear to Black Watch, the tradition of soldier on a stage has a long, rich, and male-dominated history.
Less often told—or staged—are the tales of women at war. And Theater Alliance’s world premiere production of Spark, directed by Colin Hovde, ignites a bold, new, and crucial facet of theatre’s war stories, introducing the female soldier to the canon and examining the complex and trying ripple effects that stem from a warrior returned home.
The latest play from Obie Award-winner Caridad Svich, Spark opens against the backdrop of North Carolina beaches and tobacco farms, where two of the three Glimord sisters are preparing for the third to return from the “conflict” overseas.
The three sisters are as different as they are strong: The youngest, Ali (Alison Donnelly), just finished high school and dreams of being a boxer; the eldest, Evelyn (Sarah Strasser), serves as ad hoc guardian. And Lexie (Anna Lathrop), the middle sister, returns from the Middle East detached, haunted, and without a next step.
Her return unearths tensions between the sisters that have been brewing for years.
In their parentless blue-collar family—Mom worked tobacco before she died, and who knows what’s become of Dad—each sister feels obligated to the others, and each grapples with her feeling of obligation in ways ranging from violently resentful to emotional martyrdom. The only thing they have in common seems to be unspeakable, unbearable loneliness.
Evelyn anchors the piece. Her neighbor and would-be boyfriend Hector (played with earnestness by Carlos Saldaña) tries to break through Evelyn’s profoundly stubborn defenses, with varying degrees of success. She’s tough, bordering on unlikable. She has carved her identity from the sacrifices she’s made, and gives to Lexie and Ali from a love that looks like bitterness. And she’s given endless opportunities to connect with others, behave differently, and allow someone in—but she refuses each attempt.
Donnelly and Lathrop are spellbinding in their balance of strength and uncertainty. While the burgeoning relationship between Hector and Evelyn serves to show the eldest sister’s emotional growth, it is the relationship between the two younger sisters that serves as the heart of this play.
Closes September 28, 2014
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The production has a few issues that aren’t unexpected in a world premiere–less to do with the actors than the script. Assigning a song to each character, for example, dealt an awkward heavy handedness to the play that could easily be reworked.
But the heart of the piece rings true. Sometimes it’s simpler to cope with the bad than to let in the good. Sometimes family doesn’t feel altogether familiar. And sometimes we do the best we can, only to hear that it’s not enough. And in spite of these things, whether by a rainy baptism or befriending a stranger, we forge on and find the good where we may.
As an addition to the canon of dramatic works that grapple with war and politics, Spark is a triumph. With skillful performances and themes that resonate across both personal and political spheres, Theater Alliance’s season opener reminds us of the vital role art can play in reflecting the world as it is and can be. This world premiere production of Spark deftly marries the strains of conflict on the world stage and on the back porch—fighting for one’s country and fighting for one’s family.
Spark by Caridad Svich . Directed by Colin Hovde . Featuring Sarah Strasser, Anna Lathrop, Alison Donnelly, Carlos Saldaña and Addison Switzer . Assistant Director: Katie Ryan . Set design: Deborah Wheatley . Costume design: Kelsey Hunt . Lighting design: Martha Mountain . Sound design: Thomas Sowers . Props mater: Kevin Laughon . Produced by Theater Alliance . Reviewed by Jennifer Clements.
Closes September 28
Celia Wren . Washington Post disappointing … One wishes that some dramaturgical drill sergeants had insisted on revisions during the writing of “Spark…
Chris Klimek . City Paper Long stretches of the play are devoted to two of the three Glimord sisters sitting around wondering where the third one is.
Jennifer Perry . BroadwayWorld It doesn’t ignite, but it doesn’t fizzle either.
Kyle Durkee . DCMetroTheaterArts I love theater that makes you think!