Small productions are a real treat. Small budgets, venues, and creative teams make for highly creative, though minimalist, sets. I had the pleasure of sitting in on opening night of Ithaka by Andrea Stolowitz, the story of a woman Marine, after having the privilege to speak with the director and aritistic director/starring cast member last week. We chatted about women in the army, PTSD, and making a play about an unfamiliar subject matter.
I don’t want to give away spoilers, but I will say that the most simply written things can be the most beautiful. There’s nothing astonishing or overtly clever about this particular story of a Marine coming home and dealing with outbursts of PTSD and hallucinations, but the simplicity of the plot makes the story very easy to follow, thus giving audiences—even those less experienced with the stage—the ability to appreciate the nuances of the language used. Each character’s speech was well-crafted and unique to their personality. There was also a liberal scatter of finely-tuned humour throughout. It’s a difficult and sad story to tell, but the right humour put in the right place added some necessary levity for the audience immersed in an otherwise heavy subject matter. Although I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, there is a giant roller coaster and a lost cat involved.
The most golden part of the play is the performances. Indelicato (Laney) was definitely a powerful force onstage, and the passion she showed in our interview clearly came through in well-delivered, impassioned speeches and bites of humour. Also notable was Bancroft’s performance as Richardson, a fellow Marine, whose more easy-going, chirpy personality provided a nice foil to Laney’s intensity. The cast was an intimate and small one, letting audiences sift through the few but impressionable characters very quickly in order to enjoy the plot and themes of the play.
Much creativity was given to the uniquely-arranged set, which was very minimal and required the audience’s imagination to “fill in the gaps,” so to speak. This gave the play a surrealist feel even though it was set in the real world, and this tone contributed to the theme of mental illness, of which hallucinations were part of. Lighting and sound effects were minimal and not the most noticeable in this dialogue and character-driven production, but a moment of intensity during a climatic point of the story was very impactful when the theatre went completely dark. Because of the minimalist set, audiences may feel there is a lack of traditional action and reality by having to visualize most of what is physically happening. Yet, what really shines for Ithaka is the simplicity yet importance of its message and the strength of its cast’s delivery. Stolowitz manages to tell an important story through a highly personalized but real and honest lens, and Excavation Theatre and Dream of Passions productions brings this play to life on a small yet powerful scale.
Ithaka (directed by Jessica Anne Nelson) will be showing May 10-14 at 8:00pm at the Havana Theatre. Tickets are $22-25.