On the ninth day of Sunday School, I learned that “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” But nothing was said about bearing false witness against myself.
Generally speaking, we all know why we lie to ourselves: to protect ourselves from the truth. Shakespeare, Camus, and Vonnegut made careers of telling us so.
The Aggregate Theatre Company’s inaugural production of Doug Wright’s 1983 play, The Stonewater Rapture, asks not why we deceive ourselves, but how we do it.
Wright is best known for penning the Pulitzer Prize-winning I Am My Own Wife and the Tony Award®-nominated book of the musical Grey Gardens (another play about self-deception).
The play’s unfortunate title — both forgettable and imprecise — has an initial premise that promises to bore. But all synopses that I encountered proved misleading; Doug Wright’s play was waiting around the corner to punch me right in the face.
Owner and artistic director Matthew Hager chose The Stonewater Rapture, which premiered in 1983, as the inaugural production of his new venture, Aggregate Theatre Company. This production, which runs through June 23rd at Downtown Raleigh’s Imurj, supports the cliché that big things can come in small packages.
Directed with sensitivity and precision by Jaybird O’Berski, this hour-long play consists of two conversations between a pair of fundamentalist Texan teenagers: the pensive Whitney and his new girlfriend, the rambunctious Carlyle. The two grapple with their own lustful urges, vowing to keep their eyes on the prize: a place in Heaven with their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Over the 60 minutes, layer upon layer of self-deception is peeled away, revealing horrifying truths.
Matthew Hager plays Whitney with admirable subtlety, and makes no judgments about the character’s decisions. The fearless Lexie Braverman plays Carlyle with such raw honesty that I believe her character’s delusions. Both actors deliver some of the finest work that I have seen in the Triangle this season.
Lighting designer Mia Carson makes the most of Imurj’s limited grid, unifying practical lights and overhead cues to great effect. Composer Marc Celestini scores the show with a haunting, synthesized church organ, which he plays live.
Due to very limited playing space, the set contains only the most necessary elements, but its dressing effectively capture a timeless “grandma’s-house” quality. The production’s visual centerpiece — a large painting of Jesus’ calm but always watchful eyes — hangs behind the set, emphasizing the young lovers’ constant fear of His judgment.
Though some staging could be cleaned up — any production flaws can be chalked up to the use of an atypical venue. Noises from the facility above occasionally jar the mood, but the text and the actors are so engaging that it does little harm. Still, Imurj may prove to be a viable solution to the recent location woes of itinerant theaters.
The closeness of the audience to the stage pulled me into the charming world of these characters with ease. I never anticipated the terrors that were to come.
I highly recommend attending this production, not only to experience terrific artistry, but also to support a new independent local theater company — one that is off to a very robust start.
SECOND OPINION: June 14th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-stonewater-rapture/Event?oid=6372888; and June 14th Hillsborough, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with actors Lexie Braverman and Matthew Hager for “Lights Up!”: https://whupfm.org/episode/lights-up-61417-permanent-archive/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the June 20th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/06/doug-wrights-stonewater-rapture-at-imurj-is-delightfully-humorous-and-frighteningly-serious/.)
The Aggregate Theatre Company presents THE STONEWATER RAPTURE at 8 p.m. June 19 and 23 at Imurj (beneath Whiskey Kitchen), 300 S. McDowell St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27603.
TICKETS: $10 on June 19th and $15 on June 23rd.
BOX OFFICE: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-stonewater-rapture-a-play-by-doug-wright-tickets-34754547788.
INFORMATION: 919-279-5734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHOW: https://www.aggregatetheatre.com/current-production and https://www.facebook.com/events/127898791106551/.
PRESENTER: https://www.aggregatetheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/aggregatetheatre/, and https://twitter.com/aggtheatre.
VENUE: https://www.imurj.com/, https://www.facebook.com/imurjraleigh/, and https://twitter.com/imurjraleigh.
PARENTAL ADVISORY: Aggregate Theatre Company cautions, “[This play is] Not appropriate for children. [It] Contains strong sexual content.”
NOTE: There will be a mini-concert, starting at 7:30 p.m., before each performance.
The Stonewater Rapture (1983 Yale University and 1984 Edinburgh Fringe Festival play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=148 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Doug Wright (Dallas, TX-born playwright and screenwriter): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/doug-wright-113564 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0942354/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doug_Wright (Wikipedia).
Jaybird O’Berski (director, artistic director of Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, and assistant professor in the Duke University Department of Theater Studies): http://www.littlegreenpig.com/jaybird-o-berski.html (LGPTC bio) and https://theaterstudies.duke.edu/people/jaybird-oberski (Duke Theater Studies bio).
Dustin K. Britt, a Triangle native, is an actor, director, and member of the board of directors of Arts Access, Inc., which makes the arts accessible to people with disabilities. He holds an M.A.Ed. in Special Education from East Carolina University and teaches locally. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment. You can find him on Facebook as Dustin K. Britt and via his movie blog Hold the Popcorn.