The PlayGround: A Theatre Cooperative and Common Ground Theatre co-production of Harbor Hope, a new one-act play written by Debra Kaufman and directed by Joshua Benjamin, is a good attempt at raising awareness of domestic abuse. Kaufman has crammed a bit more story than she tells into this examination of familial abuse and the efforts to stop the cycle. The play has power and tension, the acting is mostly excellent, and no doubt the playwright makes her point.
However, we are left unsure what Rebecca’s story really is and what it represents. She is the inexperienced social worker attempting to help Mo extract herself from marriage to an aggressive, abusive drunk. We get smidgens of her background after she receives an unwanted phone call from her (apparently also abusive) father which upsets her traumatically, but not enough to understand her character.
Kaufman also drags abortion, Roman Catholicism, alcoholism, Buddhism, and social isolation all into a 90-minute one-acter. Setting the play during the early part of the Reagan Administration detracts from its currency. Harbor Hope should be considered a work in progress.
Set designer Barrie Oblinger has constructed an effective tri-part set that could be used more effectively if scene changes were a bit quicker. On stage right is a tidy counselor’s office, and stage left is used as both an apartment living room and either a store or Rebecca’s bedroom with a mirror and a rack of clothes. The set also houses a courtroom and a prison cell. Dominating the stage is the bar room with a mini juke box, booze logos, and a bottle-stacked counter.
Director Joshua Benjamin should have sped up the numerous scene changes, which broke up the flow of action. Perhaps, if the scenes had contained more story and had been longer, their frequency would have been less noticeable; but they could be sped up by going directly to black at scene end and light up the next beginning. Benjamin has chosen a mostly excellent cast who deliver the appropriate tension and drama.
Amanda Scherle’s Mo is tough, defensive, hurt, hard, and breakable. Her ability to glide into a new mood without disturbing the preceding one is refreshing and utterly believable. It is a commendable performance.
Mike, Mo’s husband, as played by Sufyan Shahin, is ominous with a projection of brutality that is scary, although we never see him actually throw the punches. His demeanor is wholly possessive and overbearing. However, we never get to find out how he got to be such a bully.
Eric Morales’ Christopher is watchful and unafraid, as the bartender who must curtail Mike’s fervor occasionally; and Morales handles the rest of the role with great sensitivity.
Sabrina Aldridge is not very believable as Rebecca, the social worker/counselor. She recites the lines, but doesn’t have the heft to make us feel she understands their content.
It was a mistake for the same actor who plays Mike to appear as Rebecca’s father (or brother, it is not clear), without identifying the split role in the program. The character appears only once and for a very few seconds; perhaps, Kaufman should find another way to convey that information.
There is an important raising of awareness in the show, notably the subtle interactions between abuser and abused as portrayed by Amanda Scherle and Sufyan Shahin, which makes attendance well worthwhile.
PlayGround: A Theatre Cooperative and Common Ground Theatre present HARBOR HOPE, a new one-act play written by Debra Kaufman and directed by Joshua Benjamin, at 7:30 p.m. June 19 and 20, 2 p.m. June 21, 7:30 p.m. June 25-27, and 2 p.m. June 28 at 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina 27705.
TICKETS: $13 ($10 students, seniors 65+, and active-duty military personnel), except $22 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-384-7817 or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1597055.
SHOW: http://cgtheatre.com/events and https://www.facebook.com/events/1621830071393874/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.cgtheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/cgtheatre, and https://twitter.com/CGTheatre919.
DIRECTIONS: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/directions. DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://www.cgtheatre.com/directions.
Debra Kaufman (Durham area playwright): http://www.debrakaufman.info/ (official website) and https://www.facebook.com/debra.kaufman.9 (Facebook page).
Joshua Benjamin (Mebane, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/josh.benjamin.33 (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.