The ever-flexible performance space at the Playground Theatre is once more transformed with great imagination, this time to accommodate the double bill of Rena Brannan’s Artefact and Tennesse Williams’ Something Unspoken, both directed by Anthony Biggs.
An interesting double bill of sapphic exploration
In front of the raked seating, tables and chairs are laid out in a cocktail bar, cabaret-style set by Tara Kelly that is appropriately lit by Choreographer and Lighting Designer Steven Dean Moore with Sound Design by Eloise Sheffield.
Approach the on-set bar and you’ll be offered a very strong gin martini for as long as stocks last; a nice touch for an evening that kicks off with Artefact, and “a monster under the bed”. It turns out to be no more than an unopened letter, that Betty Ford has discovered, but its contents have a huge impact on the future First Lady, who descends into a whirlwind of emotional distress about its message and her life in general. It’s set in 1965, the year of her nervous breakdown, whilst enduring addiction to prescription drugs and the consumption of what she regarded to be a normal amount of alcohol, that was anything but.
Brannan’s wife Sophie Ward plays the part along with Sarah Lawrie in a silent movement role and also a dance sequence with Ford. It transpires that Julia, Ford’s college roommate from years ago was in love with her. If she had only known then what she knows now, how different life might have been. It’s the catalyst that ignites a gin-fuelled reflection on people, places and events and the times they spent together. Ward sensitively balances the now wishful thinking with remorse, joy and anger before Ford is overcome by the alcohol and remains slumped on the bar during Something Unspoken which follows seamlessly.
In stark contrast to the slouched Ford, Amanda Waggott assumes the upper area of the split-level staging created to elevate this play. She exudes an air of privilege and status with a commanding presence befitting a wealthy spinster from the Southern aristocracy in 1950s Mississippi, though her drawl wavers back and forth across the Atlantic. Cornelia Scott is a society woman, currently aspiring to the position of Regent of the Confederate Daughters, a position she knows to be rightfully hers after so many years as a loyal and active member of her local chapter. For now all she can do is wait for a phone call to tell what’s happening at the electoral convention she has declined to attend in the belief that she should place in position by acclamation. She will not meddle in the dirty waters of a campaign. To stand in a competitive election would be vulgar and beneath her dignity, but things turn out to be less straightforward than she had planned, as updates on the situation come ringing in.
This day also makes fifteen years since Grace (Sarah Lawrie) became her secretary, which she marks by buying her fifteen roses. It’s a subtle indication of the love she bears for her.; the very something that has remained unspoken. She hopes this simple gesture might further her intentions, but Grace knows very well how to out manoeuvre her and engages in a series of diversionary tactics. Lawrie plays the game with ripened awareness, deflecting the shots that come her way.
It makes for an interesting double bill of sapphic exploration that juxtaposes the lesser-known short work of perhaps the greatest of playwrights from the USA with a modern vignette that relates to a flawed yet exceptional woman.