Through Sunday, Oct. 1
Sonorous Road Theatre, Raleigh
True confession: it’s still a thrill when a new theater company hangs out its shingle, and the fewer names I recognize on a press release or playbill, the greater my curiosity is. That was particularly true of Peony Productions and its first project, the dark comedy Silver Lining at Sonorous Road. Decades before the Women’s Theatre Festival came to the Triangle, women here were having difficulty finding meaningful roles outside of the constricting bandwidth of ingénue, femme fatale, or loving wife; past a certain age, they basically went missing on our stages.
So when British playwright Sandi Toksvig wrote this play specifically to provide a showcase for older female actors, pointing out the degree to which elders as a whole are an invisible population in our culture, my interests were definitely raised. But with so few opportunities to hone their craft over the years, these theater artists were younger in artistic development than in age. I should quickly add that these weren’t absolute beginners, not with serious credits behind the scenes and in other theatrical capacities over the years. Most of them were, however, trying something different here. They should be warmly encouraged to keep training and keep trying.
Silver Lining sated my sweet tooth for gallows humor with the curmudgeonly badinage of May (Laura Arwood), a wheelchair-bound lesbian who confronts the physical indignities of aging with the sharpest wit. But Toksvig’s characters hit the same notes too often. As floodwaters threaten and then enter their nursing home, Silver Lining’s script veers too early toward the implausible. Beyond that, it dives into the formulaic, as each of the women onstage is rationed a monologue with one Big Reveal apiece.
As a beginner director, Pam McClure hasn’t figured out how to correct those shortcomings or to help her actors develop dimensional performances and true ensemble work. But there were more than glimmers of talent from Karen Morgan Williams as a seamstress with a well-disguised death wish; Freyja Helmer-Sindemark as May’s politically inept sister; Laura Bottomley as fading theater artist Maureen; and especially Carol Oleson as the beatific St. Michael. They all belonged on a stage—just with more seasoning and training. Clearly, it’s never too late for that.