Friday, March 8, 2013
Theater Review: Fontanelle
According to Wikipedia, fontanelles are "soft spots on a baby's head which, during birth, enable the bony plates of the skull to flex, allowing the child's head to pass through the birth canal." That this fact provides the basis for the emotional arc of a play which is neither about babies or skulls is one of the many impressive features of Ted Bushman's Fontanelle, a new play directed by Scott Eckern and produced by Andrew Joy.
The setting is Pittsburgh, 2008. April Wellington is on spring break during her first year of college and she decides to bring her boyfriend Kyle home with her to meet her mother. As April shows Kyle her childhood home, they look through old family photographs and we, the audience, watch the family backstory unfold onstage around them. At the outset of their marriage, April's mother Caroline and father Patrick were a happy young couple and Patrick had a promising career ahead of him in architecture. When Patrick received a handsome employment offer in Paris, he was thrilled, but Caroline wanted to stay in the city where she grew up. Their decision has great importance for their baby daughter April, and the family photos give us snapshots from various moments in her life as she grows up.
The play deals with themes of emotional safety and the capacity of the human body and spirit to move through times of hardship. It largely takes place in a family kitchen and gives us a realistic and moving glimpse into the lives of a family struggling with fear and uncertainty.
One life event of particular moment to the family takes place in 2001, and the play gives deft allusions to popular songs and films of the time. I felt transported back to that year, as if I were watching a period piece, particularly in a scene involving two family members watching TV on Sept. 11th. "The buildings just keep falling and falling," the daughter says. It was very evocative of my experience that week as the TV was dominated for days by endless replays of the towers collapsing. The significance of that day and its use as a symbol for the fear and loss we all experience are woven into the writing of Fontanelle in a gripping way.
The acting in this production was admirable on all fronts, but the truly majestic performance of the evening was given by Becca Ingram as April's mother Caroline. She was mesmerizingly believable and conveyed a mother at different ages in various circumstances with great skill. She was the emotional anchor of the production and was absolutely captivating. Each member of the small cast contributed greatly and I loved each performance.
The writing shows remarkable depth and insight into the lives of others. I happen to know the play-write personally and knowing that he was eighteen years old when he wrote this piece makes his brilliance doubly impressive. And while the mood of the play is often somber, it is tempered with just the right amount of good humor and kindness. The play's conclusion was very uplifting. It was a gift to feel so moved.
When the play was over and I turned to chat with my fellow audience goers, I felt that there was more love in the room for this play having been performed, and that is the highest compliment that I can give it.
Fontanelle runs through Saturday March 8th at the Covey Center in Provo.