Reach probes the aftermath of Katrina in a two-character drama
We`re still counting up the wreckage from Hurricane Katrina that blasted New Orleans in August 2005.
More than 1,800 dead and countless lives damaged, physically and emotionally. It is into the soul of one of the walking wounded that Ryan Sprague’s new play Reach probes. Encore Presentations currently mounts this effort at Jamesville’s Glen Loch restaurant as a dinner-theater attraction.
Trim (maybe too trim) and blonde (a lighter shade than before) Lindsey (Danielle Valeriano) survives in a barren apartment with no place to sit down. A knock at the door brings a discarded boyfriend, Jordan (Ryan Santiago). Suspicious, she growls that her meddlesome parents or his own nosey nature might have sent him to check up on her. It’s not a cute meet.
He offers that he just happened by because he was in the neighborhood. “And you live in Chicago!” she snarls, simultaneously explaining why neither speaks with a Louisiana accent and the depth of Jordan’s interest. He’s not going to be put off by Lindsey’s abrasive posturing.
Everything about her is unwelcoming. Not only are there no chairs, but she gets shirty if he so much as touches any of the furniture, like the crummy coffee table. She talks like a stevedore in a David Mamet play, in contrast to Jordan’s gentle, almost nerdy solicitation. Lindsey’s quirky habit of taking a mouthful of vodka so that it can be spat accurately onto one of her many houseplants turns out to be an anticipation of her penchant to spit in Jordan’s face at the slightest provocation.
Jordan already knows much of what’s bugging Lindsey, but it takes a while for us to get to the extent of her personal pain. Although actress Valeriano endows Lindsey with fashionmodel good looks, she’s doing without male company because she’s putting all her attention on her husband Conor, now in a hospital with a coma. (Spoiler alert: This story will change.)
All her comforts and the better part of her person have gone to tending him. Hearing all this, Jordan brims with empathy. He’s been dumped by his girlfriend Caroline. And he’s walking around with a clot threatening his brain.
All this dialogue is punctuated by the wail of sirens from passing ambulances and police cars in the street. They intrude in the apartment, and we’re invited to hear them as comments on what Lindsey is telling us.
In a show starved of comic relief or even many light moments, Reach allows Jordan many revelations of an endearing clumsiness along with his dogged attention. Anyway, that’s what does the trick when Lindsey runs across the room to jump Jordan, literally, wrapping her arms and legs around him and, from what appears, thrusting her tongue forward in a soul kiss. She rips off his shirt and doffs her own blouse to reveal a skimpy red bra, a metaphor for suppressed passion we have not been seeing. What a surprise! This comes just before intermission.
When the lights come back, Jordan has spruced up the apartment, but he still is not making time with Lindsey. Her attitude is uncannily like that of women in Encore Production’s last outing, Diana Son’s Stop Kiss in November. In summary, her attitude is, “Just because you’ve had my body don’t give you access to my heart.” Reach is a 90-minute play, and Jordan has his work cut out for him if we’re all going to reach a conclusion the audience is looking for in the week after St. Valentine’s Day.
As the play is written, Valeriano’s Lindsey is given more to do, with an arc that ranges from dyspepsia to sparkle, as well as a hidden life not completely revealed here. The actress has all the verbal and physical training to portray a wounded woman. But perhaps director Marguerite Beebe might have held back from allowing Valeriano’s abundant natural beauty from introducing Lindsey as a looker rather than a victim. After years of going to the theater, we expect such a woman to be a magnet for men.
Actor Santiago may come with a resonant speaking voice (he reminds us of it in the program), but he does not first appear to be the leading-man type. His saintly patience, and willingness to endure insults, such as wiping spittle from his face, make him appear more a healer than a hero.
Describing Reach as a “new play” does not do the job. The company proudly promotes this production as a “world premiere” and by a local playwright at that. Ryan Sprague attended Corcoran High School before pursuing a degree in playwriting at SUNY Oswego.
He has since moved to New York City, had works read and produced at different venues, and has joined Dramatists Guild of America. His age and date of graduation are not given. Santiago (2008) and Valeriano (2009) are also graduates of SUNY Oswego.
Local playwrights seem to shun Central New York locales. Donna Stuccio’s Elegy in Blue (Rarely Done, September 2010) was set in Atlantic City. Sprague reports that the spark for Reach came from a 2008 conversation with a desperate woman in the French Quarter. Yet the message is timely for this part of February: Some of us are too hardened with scar tissue to accept the gift of love.
This production runs through Feb. 26. See Times Table for information.