By Tom Diggs; Directed by Alexander Greenfield
Produced by Libra Theater Company
Off Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 2.1.15
Shelter Studios, 244 W 54th St.
by Keith Paul Medelis on 1.27.15
John Clarence Stewart and Lindsay Kyler in Kind Souls. Photo by Carl Wiemann.
BOTTOM LINE: Kind Souls offers some surprising top-of-the-line talent across the board with a script that never fully takes off.
I was eager to see what awaited when the house lights went down after taking a look at the design for Kind Souls. Shetler Studios is an odd performance venue as you have to walk through rows of rehearsal rooms in order to eventually find your destination tucked in a corner. But the Libra Theater Company has some real treats in store for this shoebox space.
We’re in a world that we’re not really able to place. Tara (played by Lindsay Kyler) and Oliver (John Clarence Stewart) seem to be living through some intense physical pain (her stomach and his tooth), and outside there is something known as “The Conflict” brewing. To make matters worse the water is unfit to drink and the family is getting poorer. Oliver is looking for work and Tara seems assigned to the home in a world that prevents her from learning to read and being considered for employment. Tara occupies her time with paintings of the mysterious gray-blue skies around her. There’s much left intentionally vague here so I hesitate to go further with my description, save for the fact that the presumed not-so-pleasant end is indeed inevitable.
Kind Souls offers some interesting commentary on our desire for things and advancement in the world. Here, “signing” at work seems like it offers great advantages (first a peach, and then later raises) but also something that is apparently a deal with the devil, one that I’m assuming involves some kind of war-time killing machine. Tara wants a new oven with the money now on hand, but then later laments “before the oven I was happier.” In a world of stuff that has not, apparently, been acquired admirably, she can’t find anything beautiful to paint and the play becomes shrouded in the sounds of explosions all around.
There’s some really masterful work in simplicity with the design. The floor, from set designer Jason Sherwood, is made up entirely of cork flooring, maybe a foot deep, that looks somewhere comfortably between earth, stone, and ashes of the fallen. There are also some lovely props worth mentioning that don’t get a listing in the program. Tara’s gray-blue paintings (and the tip of her brush no less) illuminate in the otherwise grayscale world of the far away. As for Carl Wiemann's skilled lighting, never have so few instruments created a world of such depth and vividness, from feeling awash in the light of a sunrise to the angular threat of demise. Travis Alexandra Boatright's costumes suitably place us elsewhere while remaining grounded in the known, and Alex Neumann's sound design, no doubt with contributions from Michael Finke's original music, immerse us in a world where the deep bass notes of a piano can spell disaster.
Alexander Greenfield leads a skilled cast with a difficult text that manages to immerse us in the familiar unfamiliar without overwhelming us in the trick of sci-fi mayhem. This is a style of playwriting tried by many and succeeded by few. With his script, Tom Diggs seems to be trying to keep the plot and dialogue sparse in an attempt to make a situation general and therefore anywhere. Here, we get the sense that we are in a war-torn, future-land after humans have had their way with the natural world. It’s the post-apocalyptic stuff of dreams or nightmares, depending on your like for the stuff. What’s tricky, however, is that making the general playable and relatable is not an easy task. We’re left wondering what all the screaming is about when we can’t actually grasp the stakes. While I sat back to admire the artistry of the design, acting, direction, and writing, I was left wanting more heart and a little more to grab onto.
That said, Kind Souls is an evening of theater you should check out. It seems that Libra Theater is starting to make a real name for themselves, winning some Innovative Theater Awards for their new version of 12th Night and The Thirteenth Commandment since starting in 2010. Keep them on your list, as I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from them very soon.
(Kind Souls plays at Shetler Studios, 244 W 54th Street, through February 1, 2015. Remaining shows are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 PM; and Sunday at 2 PM. Tickets are $18 and are available at www.libratheater.org.)