Small Town Portrait Shines

Author: 
Pauline Adamek
Publication: 
Studio City Sun
Published: 
5/4/2007 (All day)

"Artistic director, Kerrie Keane, has written and directed a simply wonderful play. Thanks to her confident approach and attention to detail and mood, her vision has been beautifully realized by her uniformly strong and talented cast and her tech crew...Her brilliant writing makes us invested in each of these characters’ stories, while she deftly controls the creeping dread...I found The Red and White Store to be a fantastic night of entertainment. I urge you not to miss Kerrie Keane’s wonderfully moving, sometimes funny and poignant play."

 

 





Set in 1957, in a rural North American hamlet, The Red and White Store is a warm and insightful drama that focuses on the impact of the space race on a small community. 

As the house lights dim, some jolly, folksy popular songs from the fifties give way to the peaceful country sound of crickets until we hear a lone, plaintive voice bravely singing "Happy Trails."  It's Rita (Jessica Wright), a grimly wild child chirpily conversing with her deceased parents.

Next we meet the humble couple who run the little "Red and White" store.  Ben (Vincent Mann) is a stern and nervy guy, fixated with building a fall-out shelter for himself, his wife Tessia and a few of the townspeople.  Quiet Tessia (Angelina Leaf and alternatively played by Cynthia Hall) seems less than enthusiastic about the shelter.  You can tell by their authentic sounding accents that both are of Eastern European origin, though it isn't revealed until later in the play that Ben is from Hungary and Tessia is Polish.  For those two, the horrors of WWII and the Russian invasion of Budapest are still fresh. 

For Ben there is a grave sense of urgency to his mission.  The Russian's pending launch of their satellite, Sputnick, into space spells doom to him; it's one step away from them launching nuclear missles and obliterating their US enemy. 

The rest of the simple country folk that frequent the store soon become caught up in Ben's paranoia.  Schoolmarm Thora (Krista Lewis and alternatively played by Elizabeth Harris) speaks her God-fearing sentiments, but it's evident that she, too, is keeping tabs on the dramatic events playing out on the world stage.  Turner (Steve Rivkin and alternatively played by Steven Cesnek) has returned from his military service to a celebration at the store but he refuses to talk of the terror he experienced.  There's talk of one of their neighbors, Anthony, who remains missing in action while his wife Silvia (Lisa harman and alternatively played by Marguerite Moreau) has disappeared to New York to pursue a career in journalism.  Lloyd (Danny Junod) privately holds a torch for his sister-in-law Silvia, so her suddenly arrival home from New York stirs troubling feelings within. Now a national reporter, covering landmark events such as the racial tension and the civil rights events in Little Rock, Arkansas, sassy Sylvia's educated and worldly perspective offers an almost cynical challenge to Ben's small-minded fear mongering. 

Artistic director Kerrie Keane has written and directed a simply wonderful play.  Thanks to her confident approach and attention to detail and mood, her vision has been beautifully realized by her uniformly strong and talented cast and her tech crew.

Kevin de Santis and Darren De Santis have constructed a fantastic little set and somebody (uncredited) painted a gorgeous impressionistic mural that evokes the old time, country town.  Even the ligting and sound, by Jacob Saylor, are perfect.

Angelina Leaf as Tessia stands out with her marvelous and subtle performance.  Here is an actress who can emote even with her back to the audience.  Also subtle and tender is Keane's direction, showing us an era when a spit in the face held as much shocking impact as a punch in the jaw.  Her brilliant writing makes us invested in each of these characters stories while she deftly controls the creeping dread.

My only quibble is that the play's climax was strangely rushed and lacking in emotional impact despite an impressive build up.  Keane's restraint is fine for most of the time but she could afford to put us thorugh the wringers a bit more, and move us to tears by the finale.

Nevertheless, I found The Red and White Store to be a fantastic night of entertainment.  I urge you not to miss Kerrie Kean's wonderfully moving, sometimes fully and poignant play.