This weekend the Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents the World Premier of Dael Orlandersmith’s New Age in the Stiemke Theater…following her well received collaboration with Antonio Edwards Suarez, Antonio’s Song. My first exposure to Orlandersmith’s work was the Rep’s presentation of her strong solo piece, Until The Flood.
I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect…which is a good thing going into a new play…but I was confident that the text would be direct, engaging, and theatrical…something that I admire in her works that I had already experienced. The sub-heading from the Rep’s promo says: Four Women Prove That Age Is Just A Number! An inkling, but where do we go from here!
What I was partly expecting was four actors presenting their lives and concerns at their current stage in life…in either chronological order or reverse chronological order…but after taking my place in the Stiemke and having some time to examine the stage, I came to realize we were going to get much more than that. And what an inventive and functional set indeed…as each character inhabits a space that describes their situation and story to date in a very fluid and intriguing way…and fluid is descriptive in a number of ways here! But I’ll let you see that for yourself.
A very charming Cass is played by Lisa Harrow with all of the charm and elegance that is appropriate. She’s currently ensconced at the Metropolitan Museum of Art reminiscing or just remembering a previous stage in her life…a time of love and marriage and enchantment…apparently brought about by the recent passing of her former husband. She is clear about what her life was about and how that stage came to an end. It’s a story of personal values and society that have been all too prevalent for too long. Although Cass exudes grace here, we are never quite sure if she lives inside this story in her history or whether it is a passing memory brought about by her ex’s death.
One of the most fleshed out characters…and the one who pursued her dreams and accomplished those goals is Lisette! Certainly my favorite character here…a feisty and aware octogenarian who knows exactly who she is, what she’s done, and where she’s going…with just a bit of spit about her current health issues. Delissa Reynolds plays Lisette for all she’s worth in a very effective and believable portrayal of a woman many years her elder. And she gets all of the correct emphasis on the curse words she’s given to show us how she’s lived her life and maintained her independence!
And Courtney Rackley brings us Candy, a woman who has just celebrated her 45th birthday…and about to make another pivot in her life. Not with regret or remorse…just an understanding of who she is and where she’s been. She has pursued a number of dreams and had some success at them. And maybe not quite content but accepting of her accomplishments and aware she has a opportunities to pursue!
And our Liberty is 18 and has just left home…a home that sounds like it contained a certain about abuse…and Blair Medina Baldwin is our Liberty, with a shrug of her shoulder instead of attaching a chip to it…full of hope and promise and determination to be her own Liberty. And clearly she will be pursuing her dream to be a very serious and direct rock guitarist! Blair Medina Baldwin plays this role admirably but I felt that this character wasn’t as well limned as the others. I think there is a lot more story to realize with Liberty.
This isn’t a play of conversation or dialogue…each character talks directly to the audience from their own little corner of the world. They occasionally will share a snippet of text or ‘sing harmony’ during another’s speech…but the ball passes from Cass to Lisette to Candy to Liberty and back or around again and again as their stories unfold. Only Liberty is mobile since she hasn’t any real ties at the moment…so she sometimes brings the focus from one setting to the other…she is still fluid and the set and her movement emphasize that.
One little quibble…similar to the one from As You Like It: the soundtrack here is important to the flow of the play and Liberty is tasked with bringing some continuity to it via her guitar licks. But the sound of the guitar is a bit tinny and could use a bit more grit!!! Not volume, grit!
New Age runs at the Rep’s Stiemke Theater from March 22 — May 1, 2022 and is Directed by Jade King Carroll! Ticket and other information is available here.
Approximate Running Time: 60 minutes no intermission
Recommended Age: 16 and up.
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