The Wakeville Stories
Presented by Matty Mae Theater Project
Written by Laurence Carr
Directed by Kristin Carr
June 19-28, 2015
1. Davis Square Theatre
255 Elm St
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Somerville, MA) The landscaping of the Somerville Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery with its high walls and leafy trees made a charming stage for The Wakefield Stories. The gardens of the cemetery were a vibrant contrast to the occasionally morbid script. The hum of bees accompanied actors’ dialogue on the effects of war on communities. The Matty Mae Theater Project performed this new work by Laurence Carr there and also in the Davis Square Theatre. I was not able to enjoy this production in the black box, but I can imagine that it was an entirely different experience.
It is late August, 1945 in Wakeville, Ohio. WWII has finally ended and American soldiers are coming home on foot or in coffins. The generation of young men who survived are shell shocked and approaching life with great hesitancy. Billy (Michael Kelly) is such a soldier. He’s caught in a love triangle with two Wakeville citizens: Tweedy (Meg Di Maggio) supports Billy unconditionally. Six (Kathleen C. Lewis) is best friends with Tweedy and has designs on Billy’s singledom. Merjane (Dani Berkowitz) foster’s a healthy obsession for Six’s glamorous dreaming. Cyrus (Kevin C. Groppe) is the only family Merjane has left. The mysterious life and death of Mattie Mae, an unseen ghost, unifies them.
Wakeville Stories is a simple, ensemble driven piece of theatre that puts focus on interpersonal relationships and communication over elements of stagecraft. The beauty of this outdoor production lay in its capacity to entertain without the benefit of lighting or set dressing. It’s simplicity did not distract the audience from its messages. It wasn’t Shakespeare in the Park but it wasn’t amateur hour at Plimouth Plantation either.
This production forced its cast to be a stronger focus than all of the other pulls nature provided. In particular Lewis and Berkowitz grasped our attention immediately and permanently. The cast created reliable, effective characters that had us focusing on them despite the beautiful weather (and fluffy, attacking bumble bees).
For all their hard work, at times it seemed as if characters were appearing in different variations of the same show. The creation of scene was effective but time and place were relative to each character. For example, Billy and Tweedy were clearly in 1945 Ohio but Six might have been in 1952 New York, or Merjane in 1929 Louisiana. The actors agreed that they were sharing the same stage but were otherwise not unified.
Playwright Carr has written a compassionate script. It introduces us to characters that we come to care about in 90 minutes. Unfortunately, it feels like Carr is holding back. By being so gentle towards his characters, he puts them at arm’s length. We comprehend that our heroes are struggling through trauma of abandonment, and assault violence, but we don’t see anything below the surface. The only near moment we get is a monologue from Billy in which he has a PTSD panic attack. It is short and leads into a dialogue between he and Tweedy regarding emotional intimacy but doesn’t tell us about his character journey. Secrets are revealed but the characters don’t grow. The audience wants to see these characters they care about make strides towards healing.
The Wakeville Stories was a fun afternoon of theatre. It wasn’t perfect but it was entertaining. With a blanket, a cooler and some friends, The Matty Mae project could easily draw crowds on any summer afternoon.