The Women’s Theatre Festival’s production of The Woodstock Tontine, written by Steffi Rubin and directed by Lucia Foster, is a sentimental journey through friendship and life. Imagine a chance encounter with a random group of people who could not be more different from you. On the surface, the only things you have in common are: a love of music and the desire to be free and explore who you really are. These moments of self-awareness also happen to take place in 1969 during a three-day Woodstock Music & Art Fair in White Lake, NY.
Can you put a monetary value on a lifetime of friendship? Would you be willing to invest say $10,000 per decade? That is exactly what the ladies of The Woodstock Tontine did.
The Woodstock Tontine, penned by rookie playwright Steffi Rubin of Chapel Hill and concluding its two-week run on July 14-16 in Burning Coal Theatre Company‘s Murphey School Auditorium in Raleigh, takes the Women’s Theatre Festival audience on an emotional journey of love, loss, and friendship. Rubin’s play not only fits in with the mission of the Women’s Theatre Festival, but also speaks to multiple generations.
The theme for this year’s Women’s Theatre Festival is “Women are funny”; however, I would not classify The Woodstock Tontine as a comedy. Although there are moments of humor and some one-line zingers, it really is a dramedy. The characters don’t seem happy with any part of their lives other than the one moment when they all met 50 years earlier.
Director Lucia Foster does a good job of helping the actresses on keeping the characters real without having them feel like caricatures. Foster picked not only an all-female show, but she cast age-appropriate actresses. In theater, there are very few roles for actresses over the age of 50. There are fewer roles in which this age group leads the show or are the heroines.
The premise of the story is that all five friends meet 50 years later at the funeral of the one person who initially brought them together five decades earlier. Through conversations and reminiscing, they realize that they don’t really know each other as well as they thought. Deciding to use the loss of their friend as an opportunity, they form a legal bond in which the last woman standing claims a “winner-takes-all” tontine. They consider it investing in their future. They continue to come together throughout the years as each one dies off, until the last two polar-opposite friends are remaining. I’ll leave who the big winner in the end is as a surprise.
Although the characters are based on real-life people, they cover your typical stereotypes. Judy McCord plays “The Smart One.” She is a Jewish, logical, no-nonsense, retired financial planner with an aversion to “bodily fluids.” She is the grounding friend of the group.
The lovely Lisa Leonard plays Shelly, “The Pretty One.” She is the sexy, stylish, man-hungry one of the group. (Think Blanche from the TV series The Golden Girls but with a Boston accent.) On the surface, she seems flighty and sex crazed; but as the story unfolds, we find that looks can be deceiving.
Verlene Oates is the charismatic, bohemian, artsy, feisty African-American B.J. She was raised by a white Jewish family and has fought her whole life to figure out which of her identities she really belongs to.
Jennifer Kuzma is the “world-traveling moral compass,” Trudy. She is the annoying voice of reason, striving to be kind and help those in need. Although born Jewish, she considers herself a citizen of the world. She travels to escape her hidden dissatisfaction of life.
Julie Oliver plays Veronika, “The German.” She is the naive immigrant initially unaware of the effects of her post-World War II upbringing. She spends most of her life feeling guilty about the past that she had no part of.
Although the play has some good bones, there are certain scenes that could be refined and shortened. Some of the dialogue in the first act, especially in the second scene, was long winded and had too much exposition. It felt like the playwright was trying to cram so much information and backstory into that one scene that, at times, the audience lost interest. A few extra revisions and tweaks could easily fix that. The pacing was also off for some of the dialogue, and cues could have been picked up a little faster.
Staging for this show was somewhat challenging due to the U-shaped seating of the black-box theater. Unfortunately, from where I was sitting, often times the actresses had their backs towards the audience. We missed out on some of the wonderful facial expressions of some of the characters.
Although the set is fairly simple, it requires multiple scene changes. Honestly, the scene changes were the death of the play’s momentum, and the biggest downfall for this production. The second scene takes place moments after the first, yet requires a complete scene change. These changes were painfully slow, and added at least 15 minutes overall to the play.
During Scene 5, the audience watched the stage crew struggle for five minutes with black boxes. I wanted to jump on stage and help them, so that I could enjoy the rest of the show. And before the last scene the audience was in the dark for an additional few minutes, even though the actress was onstage and in place.
Despite the technical difficulties, The Woodstock Tontine is worth adding to your theater calendar. It makes you think about how well do you really know your friends. It will make you ask yourself, are you taking time out of your daily life to enjoy the small things before you can’t?
SECOND OPINION: July 10th Raleigh, NC Triangle Review review by Pamela Vesper and Kurt Benrud, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/07/the-wtfs-woodstock-tontine-features-excellent-performances-from-new-and-seasoned-actresses/.)
The Women’s Theatre Festival presents THE WOODSTOCK TONTINE at 8 p.m. July 14 and 15 and 3 p.m. July 16 in Burning Coal Theatre Company‘s Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604, near the Historic Oakwood Section.
TICKETS: $18.59, including service fee.
BOX OFFICE: http://woodstocktontine.brownpapertickets.com/.
INFORMATION: 919-740-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHOW: http://woodstocktontine.com/, http://www.womenstheatrefestival.com/woodstock-tontine, and https://www.facebook.com/events/270935986709320/.
WTF SPOTLIGHT ARTICLE (by Bronwen Mischel): http://www.womenstheatrefestival.com/single-post/2017/07/06/Spotlight-on-The-Woodstock-Tontine.
PRESENTER: http://www.womenstheatrefestival.com/, https://www.facebook.com/WTFNC/, and https://twitter.com/wtfestivalnc.
The Woodstock Tontine (play): http://woodstocktontine.com/ (official website), http://www.womenstheatrefestival.com/woodstock-tontine (WTF page), and https://www.facebook.com/events/270935986709320/ (Facebook page).
Steffi Rubin (Chapel Hill, NC-based playwright): https://www.facebook.com/yaffarubin and https://www.facebook.com/steffirubinart/ (Facebook pages) and https://twitter.com/steffi_rubin (Twitter page).
Lucia Foster (Durham, NC-based director): https://www.facebook.com/lucia.foster1 (Facebook page).
Shannon Plummer-White is no stranger to the stage! She studied Musical Theater & Opera at the American Musical Dramatic Academy in New York City, and has appeared in films such as Iron Man 3 and Safe Haven. She has also performed with the North Carolina Master Chorale and the North Carolina Symphony. When she isn’t on stage or making magic behind the scenes, she can be found in the art studio playing with fire and molten glass. She is an animal advocate with a special love of cats. She has four rescued fur children and a very supportive husband. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.