WESTON >> "Forever," a one-woman play by playwright Dael Orlandersmith, has been performed by the acclaimed playwright in large venues across the country. Like "Stoop Stories," which Orlandersmith performed during Weston's 2014 season,"Forever" was developed in part at a writer's retreat sponsored by the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company.
In the intimate setting at WPTC's alternative stage at the Weston Rod and Gun Club, last Thursday's preview audience "took a ride" with Orlandersmith from Paris to New York City and back to Paris. The theatre experience was arresting.
In an interview for American Theatre, Orlandersmith commented that "everybody's work is autobiographical to a certain degree. What interests me is if it comes alive on the page and on the stage." In a talk prior to the preview performance, Producing Artistic Director Steve Stettler emphasized that while the work may be labeled as a memoir, Orlandersmith was not interested in a confessional and took dramatic license with characters and events to further the needs of the play.
"Forever" opens with the character of Dael Orlandersmith as a tourist at the Pére Lachaise cemetery in Paris, visiting the graves of Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Colette, and even Doors frontman Jim Morrison. Having made the pilgrimage to France following the death of her mother, Orlandersmith is overwhelmed by the cultural icons whose ghosts surround her in that place.
Even there, she is flooded with memories of her early life in New York City with her alcoholic mother that will not let go. We then were transported to the small apartment she shared with a woman who seemingly resented her existence while simultaneously clinging to her.
Orlandersmith, an imposing figure at six feet tall with piercing eyes, portrayed them all: her narcissistic mother, her mother's friends, an Irish cop on the beat, as well as her much younger self who experienced horrible, horrible things. The rapt audience was aghast as Orlandersmith colored the events that changed her utterly.
The transition back from that horrific time to the present-day scene in the cemetery, where Orlandersmith mused on books, art and forgiveness, was jarring. Perhaps it was meant to be. In an epiphany, Orlandersmith recalled that her mother, once a dancer whose life took another turn when she was born, introduced her to the cultural world that ultimately saved her.
The simple set by Scenic Designer Brian Dudkiewicz, a table, chair and perfunctory record turntable framed by a series of upright floorboards that suggested an urban skyline, served the piece well. The scratchy rock and roll heard on the turntable was entirely fitting. Performances of "Forever" continue at the Weston Rod and Gun Club through Sunday, July 31. For tickets, call the box office at (802) 824-5288 or go on-line at westonplayhouse.org.