I’m so grateful for Miranda McGee.
She’s a wonderful actress (and a very nice person) and for those reasons alone I always appreciate her presence on stage. But in Robert Macke’s “Our Town-esque” piece, THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS, she is especially welcome. As the narrator, “Bessie,” she guides the characters – and the audience – through pages and pages of dialogue to finally reach the conclusion of this weird little play. And McGee does it with panache.
The rest of the cast is solid, especially Carter Bratton, who looks relaxed and comfortable. He seems to be enjoying himself as he embraces the role of the drunken, troubled Mayor. And he has the best scene, too, where he gives a memorable – and hilarious – campaign speech. Joining these two stage veterans are NKU graduates Matt Kreig, Emily Fry, Andy Simpson, and Kyle Taylor.
I’m thrilled that more and more theaters are taking a risk on new works like this one. The Clifton Performance Theatre is the perfect space for experimental shows like this. Artistic Director Carol Brammer gave an inspiring curtain speech before the show about the mission of the place. As someone who is writing new plays, I’m hopeful more and more venues will be willing to give new artists a place to create.
This play has some attributes, but it is not perfect. Some of the dialogue is clunky and the story is buried too far underneath cutesy references to art and literature. Much of the self-depreciating and self-referential humor feels as if it comes from a place of insecurity rather than humor. The story could use more focus and the piece would benefit from a review of word economy.
But the good parts are really good. Director Nate Netzley makes use of minimal props and a mostly bare stage to create a sense of setting as we move around Damascus, NC. Each character is well-defined and mostly well acted. Simpson, who has such unique charisma, makes the bumbling, almost sinister Doctor charming in spite of his incompetence. Kreig brings the outside world into this tiny town and when he enters it is a breath of fresh air. Taylor and Fry have some nice moments together, too.
But it’s the work of the experienced actors – Bratton and McGee – who really gel the piece together. And it is an excellent showpiece for McGee, one of our cities finest performers. She holds our attention even when the script does not.
The friendly opening night crowd was engaged and entertained. You should give new works like this a chance; you never know what you may discover. I’m glad I saw it.
THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS plays at the Clifton Performance Theatre through October 1st. Tickets and more information can be found here.