I found myself wondering what I should walk away with at the end of Ready For The River feeling as through I just spent 75 minutes watching a very cleverly directed show that lacked any kind of direction. Most of the time I struggled to keep up with the high-stakes plot involving, as the Rabbit Hole Theatre Company put it: foreclosure, murder, deceit and the story of America.
Ready For The River begins with a bang, literally, as Lorna (Abigail Wahl) leads the audience through the imaginary set in her description of a home once lived in and now abandoned. I have to give kudos to the director, Edward Elefterion, whose simple and smart choreography left me with a good taste in my mouth. Doris (Sheila Joon) then runs on, and immediately we are thrown into a whirlwind of high-stakes as Lorna’s father is spotted at the abandoned house in which the shattered family used to live. The two women witness a bloody murder of a banker and are then forced to go on the run from the blood-thirsty father supposedly coming after them.
The high stakes of the “run and hide” done by mother and daughter got old quickly. However, the creativity of Elefterion’s choreography kept me intrigued enough to pay attention. The simple and provocative staging was fascinating, like in the instance when the imagined ghost of the Father (who we never meet) or the “Man in the Ski Mask” (played by Paul Tiesler) comes out and “pushes” Doris in a swing, despite any swing on stage. Having studied improv and worshipping theatre of simplicity, I applaud the staging of this show as a great example of theatre done using the participation of the audience’s imagination as a tool: well done!
Lorna and Doris’ constant fighting with each other left me feeling ambivalent. Although Joon’s performance was strong and Wahl did a great job of portraying the pouty teenage girl, the script lacked a certain level of believability with dialogue, switching course almost randomly and references that made no sense to the show as a whole. A line that was “spray painted” on a building about AIDS being sent by god to punish the “homos” seemed to stick out like a soar thumb and didn’t serve the larger picture of the show at all. How does the gay community affect the outcome of these two women?
The dead banker (Brad Makarowski), the victim of the Father’s crime, comes and torments Doris as she struggles to escape her pursuers and I wondered what his function to the story was, too. Was “Ready For The River” about a mother’s struggle to forget her past, or a story of coming of age for the daughter, Lorna? Or was the story a metaphor for the decline of America? Either way, I was unclear and therefore struggled to keep up with the flash-backs and dream-scapes that came and went with little explanation.
Ready For The River has strong performances, a great sense of the universe of the show, and lacks in a strong commitment to what story it wants to tell. I’m impressed by Rabbit Hole Ensemble’s stab at this original show, and would go see more of director Edward Elefterion’s work, if I knew the next production would lead me through the plot without getting lost.
“Ready For The River” Written by: Neal Bell, Directed By: Edward Elefterion
With: Abigail Wahl (Lorna); Sheila Joon (Doris); Paul Tiesler (Man in the Ski Mask/Walter); Brad Makarowski (Ted/Hall).
Costumes by: Pei-Chi Su; Lighting by: Jamie Roderick; Set/Sound by: Edward Elefterion; Technical Director: Abbie Clements; Company Manager: Richard Drake; Public Relations: Annalisa Ledson; Graphic Design by: Dave Liao; Production Photos by: Zoran Jelenic.
“Ready For The River” produced by Rabbit Hole Ensemble, will be playing September 26th through October 12th, Thursday through Saturday at 8pm at the Robert Moss Theatre, 440 Lafayette Street, NYC. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door.