The Feb. 16th opening-night performance of Pooled, a world premiere written by Moses T Alexander Greene and directed by Deb Royals-Mizerk at the Kennedy Theatre at Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh, NC, was one of those theatrical events that transcend mere entertainment. It is more of an experience than a show.
The cast and crew of Pooled certainly deliver. This sold-out production is staged in an intimate black-box theater, tucked away in a cozy corner of the Duke Energy Center arts complex, Jeff Nugent’s set design and A. Scott Honeycutt’s lighting design create a world that is evocative in its simplicity. Four separate “porch” areas framed the upstage — two staged with simple chairs and rockers; one dominated by a single, long church pew; and one packed with clutter like an overstuffed garage — and the rest of the space focused on the eponymous pool.
The audience, placed on risers around three quarters of the space, comprise the “Fifth Porch.” The pool itself, a round wading basin often lit with deep blues and ambers for effect, gleams in the center of the stage area; and in the center of the story, its cool surface both inviting and mysterious.
It is the Pool of Bethesda, which is referred to in The Bible as a place of healing. The story goes that on occasion, an angel would stir up the waters; and when that happened, the first person to step in would be immediately healed of their maladies. So, the pool is surrounded by a host of characters, each of them with their own demons and damage, waiting for their turn to be delivered.
It’s difficult to single out standout performances, as the cast in its entirety was absolutely phenomenal. There were no weak links. The insightful, poetic, and oftentimes almost threnodial dialogue flows effortlessly from spoken word to song, drawing the audience into the various character stories as they emerge. And it’s here that the power of this show really comes out: each character gets their turn to tell their tale; and in the telling, they pull absolutely no punches. Each in their own way, they tackle one of the biggest, most universal questions in human life: If God loves people, why does He allow them to suffer? It’s not a question the show asks softly, rather it reveals some of the deepest scars humans can bear and defiantly screams its demand for an answer.
Whether the characters begin as humorous or lusty, bombastic or worn out, the stories they tell defy any inclination you might have to judge on first sight. The sexy stud is haunted by crippling loss that leaves him unable to truly love. The hoarder’s messy porch is cluttered because loss has made her cling to everything she has left. The picture-perfect preacher and his wife are hiding pain and misery that never make it into their sermons. And on and on.
No taboo is shied away from: depression, despair, rape, incest, molestation, despair, suicide. Each subject is explored, woven together with such humanity and often well-placed humor that before long, one can’t help but wish everyone could get into the pool at once, and so be healed.
That’s one of the questions raised by Delsin, played by writer/director/composer Moses T. Alexander Greene. The struggle of Delsin (whose name means “healing”) to recover from childhood abuse weaves in with his own doubt and angers towards the very God he’s hoping will heal him, while he bitterly watches those who make it into the waters before him. In truth, it is this doubt and self-pity primarily which seem to hamper his own ability to get into the pool. Greene’s masterful story telling weaves his characters and their journeys together into an incredible tapestry of hope and mercy that is desperately needed in a broken world, struggling for meaning.
The music composition is equally stellar, intertwining original compositions with well-known gospel songs, hymns, and other musical styles (a short foray into honky-tonk had the audience in stitches). By turns inspiring and haunting, hilarious and heartbreaking, the music was performed with great effect by a cast with flawless vocals. Here again, it’s hard to pick a standout, as every vocal performance was top notch. I’ll simply say that the duets and trios of overlapping storytelling were exceptionally effective, and Sandra Duboise’s soulful rendition of original composition “By Now” brought the house down.
I laughed; I cried; I needed this show. Its message that every person you meet has a story you don’t know, bears scars you can’t imagine, is fighting their own private demons, and yet we all yearn for and dream of one day being healed back into the beauty and innocence that was stolen from us, resonates powerfully in a world full of violence and heartache, prejudice and “fake news.” This show has real heart and real hope, and it speaks to the soul. As I left the theater, I couldn’t help come away feeling like everyone had had their chance at a bit of healing. The Pool had done its job for us all.
Pooled has only three more sold-out performances, but you can call 919-832-9997 to add your name to the waitlist. The experience is well worth it.
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 29th Raleigh, NC Triangle Today preview by Evie Fordham: http://www.triangletoday.com/performing-visual-arts-raleigh/raleigh-playwright-premieres-pooled-a-story-of-healing-5103/.
Li V Mahob Productions and Theatre Raleigh present POOLED, a world premiere by Moses T. Alexander Greene at 8 p.m. Feb. 17 and 3 and 8 p.m. Feb. 18 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theatre in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601, presented as part of Theatre Raleigh Presents.
TICKETS: SOLD OUT. Telephone 919-832-9997 to inquire about the waitlist.
THEATRE RALEIGH PRESENTS: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/theatre-raleigh-presents/.
Li V Mahob Productions: https://www.facebook.com/pages/li-V-mahob-Productions/1607690106165368.
Theatre Raleigh: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/, https://www.facebook.com/TheatreRaleigh/, and https://twitter.com/TheatreRaleigh.
Moses T. Alexander Greene (playwright and artistic director of Li V Mahob Productions): https://www.facebook.com/MosesTAlexanderGreene (Facebook page).
Deb Royals-Mizerk (Raleigh, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/deb.royals (Facebook page).
Melanie Simmons of Cary, NC is a film and stage actress with a BA degree in Theatre from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA. She also studied dance at San Diego Mesa College and acting with Sande Shurin Acting Studios in New York City and at The Actor’s Workshop in Los Angeles, CA. She has performed locally at the Holly Springs Cultural Center in Holly Springs, Sonorous Road Theatre & Film Studio in Raleigh, and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum in Cary. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.