It is very difficult to review a brand new play. There is no track record. The story line is totally unknown, the characters, completely unfamiliar. What do you focus on; the narrative of what the author intends or the path the director wants you to see and take? And this can be complicated when the author and the director are one in the same. STILLMORE, GEORGIA, written and directed by local playwright, Brad Ogden, is the brand new play I recently enjoyed.
Ogden is a sophomore at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. Even in his bio in the group’s playbill, Ogden, after listing many of his accomplishments in his very young career in theatre, just asks the audience to “enjoy this”. Set in the home of LeAnne and Dale Dixon of Stillmore, Georgia, in the hot summer of the present, this story attempts to deal with “the various dynamics that live within the extended family. It also deals with love, perception, identity, humor, society, patience, pride, resistance and contentment” or so says the inside sleeve of the playbill. That is more than enough to deal with in one play, let alone a body of work over the course of someone’s lifetime.
The cast, sixteen in all, and diverse in age from young teen to the grandparents, all faced a huge challenge; how to make the play work without getting lost in the process. Many of the characters (not actors), were lost and maybe were not needed. Overheard audience comments were that there were so many characters to follow, that the audience spent most of their time keeping everything straight in their heads as to who everyone was and therefore, maybe, slightly, losing the overall focus of the play. Even my guest said she focused on individual characters and really couldn’t tell me what the play was all about.
Written in two acts with several scene changes during both acts, STILLMORE, GEORGIA has some brilliant moments that made the show “enjoyable.” An extremely well written scene between two groups of sisters, the older three “aunts” and the three younger daughters of one of those ladies, showed just how far Ogden has come as a writer. I am not doing the scene justice here, but trust me, the bantering between sisters in both groups was good stuff.
Shows that no matter how old you are, life is dealing with “stuff”. The show’s heel, the possible downfall of its attempted success, could be the Yankee version of what the redneck South is today. Maybe I am guilty of it too, labeling the show a redneck setting, but, I think this is the double edge sword. I am not sure this show would play south of the Mason-Dixon line. I am not sure the Midwest or the Left Coast gets the Rebel-Yankee “thing”. Does it still exist today? Well, look at who’s flying the Confederate Flag and that may tell you something. Ogden risks much with this stereotypical setting. Risk is for you and Ogden to define.
Alyssa Farrell and Kimberly Lantz play two out of the three Georgian bells/sisters who are reunited at a family picnic. Both actors are fascinating to watch and listen to. Facial expressions and mannerisms and overall professional style and conduct on stage were a pleasure to watch. Other kudos for capturing my attention were Elizabeth Gerger and Mike Nappi. As these young actors mature, I can’t wait for the roles they will play!
STILLMORE, GEORGIA is a diamond in the rough; however, polished up a bit, you have brilliance awaiting glory. I am very happy to have experienced the journey and look forward to the next one!
Written and Directed by Brad Ogden
August 20-21, 2010
700 Shady Retreat Road