Ancient Greek dramas and Shakespeare’s plays are presented in new and different ways every year, because they encompass family dramas that continue to feel contemporary. They are stories of dysfunctional families. Think Romeo and Juliet, in which two feuding families can’t even talk to each other (who doesn’t know this story?). Or Antigone, in which power consumes and turns family members on each other. For that matter, think the smash Fox TV series Empire.
When a dysfunctional family is brought home for a funeral, all of the issues that family might have had throughout the years come back to haunt them. Common Wealth Endeavors’ current presentation of Austrailian dramatist Kit Brookman’s 2013 play, Small and Tired, directed by Raleigh’s Gregor McElvogue, brings the family of Agamemnon together and reimagines the story for the small and dedicated audience at the Common Ground Theatre in Durham.
As the play begins, the actors gather on stage, slipping into their spaces and embodying their characters. The matriarch of the group, Clytemnestra, is played by Chapel Hill’s Jane Holding, who has recently appeared in as Anna Burwell in Behind the Scenes: An Interview with Anna Burwell and Elizabeth Keckly at Burwell School Historic Site in Hillsborough and as Amanda Wingfield in Glass, Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern’s mashup of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams and fictional characters from J.D. Salinger’s Glass family. When Holding moves onstage or speaks to the other characters in this moving and tightly written play, she brings with her the coolness of a mother who is trying to help her children through incredibly tragic circumstances.
North Carolina State University graduate Justin Brent Johnson, an actor with credits throughout the Triangle region, plays Clytemnestra’s son, Orestes, with brio. His intense scenes with his family, as well as his new love, bring a complexity to his character. Orestes’ love, Pylades, is played by Durham native Justin W. Peoples, who has acted in many other plays throughout the Triangle. His Electra, Orestes’ sister, is played by Raleigh actress Laurel Ullman with a refreshing mix of eye-rolling attitude and two feet on the ground. Her long-suffering husband, Jim, played by Apex actor Linh Schladweiler, is her support system, as well as the mirror that reflects her reality.
The story is told in segments, with each of the five actors’ stories interweaving with the others’ as dysfunctional family members’ stories often do. As family members relate their anger and grief over the patriarch’s death, we are introduced to their idiosyncrasies. Orestes tells Electra that he remembers her twisting a bird’s neck, and her rebuttal is that her brother didn’t “come back for us, but you came for him.” Obviously, this family funeral will expose more than the normal issues that arise when the patriarch passes.
To pull off a dramedy of Greek proportions is not easy, but this small group of performers channeled the family tragedies, and one can truly believe their love for each other is fractured by the past, and that they might not be able to move forward from it. As the Australian playwright Kit Brookman notes, “Time and circumstance had slipped between them and formed a gap that they now struggled to breach.” The Common Wealth Endeavors production of Small and Tired continues at the Common Ground Theatre through Jan. 23rd.
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 8th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article53718570.html; Jan. 6th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/small-and-tired/Event?oid=4980538; and Jan. 6th Hillsborough, NC WHUP interview — starting at the 40-minute mark — with actress Jane Holding and director Gregor McElvogue, conducted by Wayne Leonard for “Lights Up”: https://whupfm.org/episode/lights-up-1616-permanent-archive/.
Common Wealth Endeavors presents SMALL AND TIRED at 3 p.m. Jan. 10, 8 p.m. Jan. 14-16, 3 p.m. Jan. 17, and 8 p.m. Jan. 21-23 at Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina 27705.
TICKETS: $15 ($10 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).
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VENUE: http://www.cgtheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/cgtheatre, and https://twitter.com/CGTheatre919.
Small and Tired (2013 drama): https://australianplays.org/script/ASC-1535 (Australian Plays).
Kit Brookman (Sydney, Australia-based playwright): http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsB/brookman-kit.html (Doollee.com: The Playwrights Database) and https://australianplays.org/playwright/ASC-4010 (Australian Plays bio).
Gregor McElvogue (Raleigh, NC director): http://www.gregormcelvogue.com/index.html (official website), https://www.facebook.com/gregor.mcelvogue (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/gregormcelvogue (Twitter page).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.