You might have heard about the Deepwater Horizon flick that just came out. I’ve not seen it, but based on the trailers it’s a big, bloated action disaster action movie that focuses on explosions and derring-do but reportedly gives very little time to consideration to the disastrous long-term effects of the eponymous rig’s massive oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico. For a more nuanced take on the effects the kind of long term-devastation can have on the lives people who live in the region we have local playwright Audrey Cefaly’s The Gulf, bowing at Signature Theatre.
The 210 million gallons of oil that poured into the Gulf six years ago has poisoned the environment that long-time lovers Betty (Maria Rizzo) and Kendra (Rachel Zampelli) have tried their best to survive, if not thrive in. That poison has crept into every aspect of their lives, leaving them struggling to get by in rural Alabama in an economy and culture that has seemingly forgotten them.
The Gulf is one of those two-hander relationship dramedies that lives or dies by the chemistry of its cast. Rizzo and Zampelli make a cracking pair, evoking a couple that has been together long enough to know each other inside and out, just enough to effectively wound in argument, with full knowledge that both have a killing blow stored, just in case.
The Gulf finds our two lovers lazily enjoying a fishing trip; Kendra is doing most of the fishing, while Betty spends most of the time cajoling Kendra about her need to find a direction in life. The two fight, make up, make out, and fight again in a rhythm that implies this is longtime status quo. It’s the kind of casual emotionally abusive relationship pattern that is so hard to break, much less see when you’re in it.
This is a talky piece, but southern-born Cefaly’s precise and evocative dialogue gives it specificity of location and sub-culture. Much of what plot exists involves a busted motor and some late-arriving revelations I didn’t quite buy as they would require almost supernatural sensory ability on the part of Kendra, especially after a full day on fishing boat.
closes November 6, 2016
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The third star of The Gulf is Paige Hathaway’s gorgeous set, evoking the shallow waters in which Betty and Kendra find themselves stuck. The skeletal boat in which the two actors spend a vast majority of the play’s 90 minutes is a compact wonder, expertly designed to allow full view for the entire audience in the Arc’s in-the-round configuration. You’d think such a tight space wouldn’t leave much room to maneuver but director Joe Calarco wrings every tableau he can out of what he has to work with, and expertly keeps his actors engaged in bits of business that allow for constant motion. One fantastic tableau wonderfully juxtaposes the harsh angles of the boat with the soft curves of his two actors lazily entwined, a lovely and casually erotic moment that says a lot about the relationship between these two women.
Musicals have long been Signature’s stock in trade, but The Gulf is another strong entry in their side line working with emerging playwrights that reveals the Shirlington company is one of the most effective developers of new writing talent in the region. In taking on Cefaly’s lovely and stirring new play so effectively they have contributed to the development of another exciting writer.
The Gulf by Audrey Cefaly. Director: Joe Calarco . Featuring Maria Rizzo and Rachel Zampelli . Set Design: Paige Hathaway . Sound Design: Kenny Neal . Lighting Design: Andrew Cissna . Costume Design: Frank Labovitz . Fight Choreographer: Casey Kaleba . Production Stage Manager: Julie Meyer . Produced by Signature Theatre. Reviewed by Ryan Taylor.