Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Central Square Theater Presents "The Edge of Peace" - The Final Installment in the World Premiere of The Ware Trilogy by Suzan Zeder

If you have read my reviews of the first two segments of Susan Zeder's breathtaking Ware Trilogy, you already have some sense of how much I admire these gripping tales of the lives of simple folks scratching out a life and a living in Ware, Illinois during the Great Depression and the war years that followed.

If you did not see the first two plays, or have not yet had an opportunity to read my reviews of "Mother Hicks" and "The Taste of Sunrise," then it may be worth your while to take a moment to bring yourself up to speed so that what I have to say about "The Edge of Peace" will make more sense.

Blog Review of "Mother Hicks"

Blog Review of "The Taste of Sunrise"

The mounting of these three plays that comprise The Ware Trilogy represents a praiseworthy and signal achievement brought about through the creative collaboration among three organizations: Emerson Stage, The Wheelock Family Theater and Central Square Theater.  In addition, this World Premiere event was also made possible through a breakthrough sense of cooperation and communication between the world of the Hearing and the Deaf Community.  Those of us who are accustomed to experiencing theater with our eyes and ears were given an opportunity to begin to appreciate how richly American Sign Language (ASL) can convey a complex and moving narrative.  This trilogy and the way in which it has been presented to the Boston and Cambridge communities not only reaches across a chasm of time to help us to feel what the denizens of Ware must have felt, but it also builds what we must hope is a more permanent and sturdy bridge between the local Deaf community and those of us who communicate through spoken word.

Throughout the trilogy, Ms. Ware writes brilliantly and evocatively - weaving from language and ASL signs characters we come to care about at a deep level.  Through the course of the three plays, we see them develop, handle conflict and deprivation, challenges and disappointments, doubt and ignorance.  Some grow to a place of understanding, others retreat, still others die or move away.  And we care about each of their fates.

In this final installment, many of the seeds that the playwright has sown in the earlier plays come to full flower.  Ricky Ricks has gone off to Belgium to fight in WWII, and has been counted as Missing In Action.  His little brother, Buddy, refuses to believe the his big brother is never coming home, and busies himself in frenetic activity - looking to spot German planes, trying to capture an escaped prisoner.  Nell Hicks, often taunted by the town folk as a witch, remains in isolation on Dug Hill, monitoring German language short wave broadcasts - deepening the suspicion of the citizens of Ware that she is up to no good.  She harbors many secrets, some of which she shares in confidence with deaf Tuc, who feels the need to betray that trust and alert Girl that she is needed back in Ware.  Tuc is offered a lucrative position as a mechanic in a factory in far away Akron, Ohio, and has to make a gut wrenching decision between clinging to the past or venturing out boldly into the future.  Each character, in his or her own way, teeters on a knife edge between strife and peace.  It is Mother Hicks who articulates this truth, but it applies broadly to each of the principal characters.  The resolution of the various tensions and dilemmas is deeply touching.  I not only wept - I sobbed.  The telling of the story is that moving.,

Directors Lee Mikeska Gardner and Maggie Moore Abdow tease out of this fine cast some memorable and moving performances.  They are supported ably by John McGinty as Director of Creative ASL, who helps to turn the use of ASL in these performances into a thrilling art form. Lighting is by Taylor Hansen, Sound by Nathan Leigh, Costumes by Nancy Ishihara and Set by Janie Howland.

Cast members for "The Edge of Peace" are:

  • Elbert (EJ) Joseph as Tuc
  • Stewart Evan Smith as Voice of Tuc
  • David Sullivan as Buddy Ricks
  • Veronica Anastasio Wiseman as Nell Hicks
  • Nile Hawver as Ricky Ricks, Soldier
  • Alan R. White as Clovis P. Eudy
  • Gale Argentine as Izzy Ricks
  • Stephanie Cotton-Snell as Alma Ward
  • Christie Lee Gibson as Margaret
  • Kristen Leigh as June
  • Kelly Chick as Girl
  • Elizabeth Keegan as ASL Performer
  • Adrianna Kathryn Neefus as ASL Performer
Standing out among the strong cast are a few individuals.  EJ Joseph played Tuc in all three of the plays, and as such, is both the anchor and the emotional heart of this trilogy.  Ms. Zeder has written most of Tuc's lines in verse,  As Mr. Joseph signs them, we realize how rich a language ASL can be. We can tell by the many different looks in his eyes, his posture, the speed and intensity of his signing just what he is thinking and feeling.  We know perfectly well exactly what "tone of voice" he is intending to project.  Seeing the development of this character over the course of the three plays speaks loudly to Mr. Joseph's acumen as an actor. Stewart Evan Smith as the voice of Tuc is wonderfully expressive, as well.

David Sullivan comes close to stealing the show as young Buddy Ricks.  This fifth grader commands the stage each moment that he stands upon it.  His mastery of complex dialogue and physical actions is smooth and professional.  He has a bright future ahead of him, and Boston audiences will be able to delight for years to come in his growing artistry.

Veronica Anastasio Wiseman portrays a stoic Nell Hicks in a fashion that allows us to sense the heart beating beneath the rough and calloused exterior.  It is a strong performance,. Nile Scott Hawver as Ricky Ricks helps us ask more deeply the question:"Who suffers most in war, and who are the true prisoners of war?"  As the worried mother of an MIA son, Gale Argentine makes us feel her pain and worry.  Christie Lee Gibson displays a broad range of emotions as she returns to Ware harboring a painful secret and looking for Tuc.  Her arrival sets in motion changes in several lives. Kelly Chick as Girl swoops down out of the sky as a visiting angel to attend to a problem that Tuc has asked her to help with.  She is like a stream that runs cool and deep.

There remain only six more performances of this remarkable work of art.

I shared with EJ Joseph after the performance I attended my feelings: "I am going to miss Tuc!" Don't you miss Tuc and his fellow citizens of Ware.  They are simple people whose collective stories are profound and instructive.  They are together a shimmering mirror in which we see aspects of ourselves that need to be attended to.

Here is a link to make it easy for you to secure tickets to this week's final performances..



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