Presented by The Black Box Lab at STAGE284
Written by David J. Miller
Thursday, September 21, 7:30pm
The Community House
284 Bay Road Hamilton, MA
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Review by Bishop C. Knight
(Hamilton, MA) Playwright David J. Miller was present at last night’s reading of Barn Sale, where he shared that one mission of his new play is to exhibit how older people hold immense wisdom. This mission was also the expressed intention of the actress whose entire life has been chronicled within the two-hour performance. Between David J. Miller and his captivating dialogist, the actress who generously divulged every detail of her life to David over the course of two winters, the mission was a complete success. What David J. Miller ultimately produces for audiences is an epic figure of a woman who bravely charged through life and, I have to be honest, I was crying by the end of the performance.
The script was lovingly read by Donna Sorbello. Barn Sale comes across like an archive from the Smithsonian’s Oral History Program. As if at a belated commemorative service, praise of the main character rung like church bells through the small theater: After decades of hardship, “this woman was blessed to maintain hope.” She “had to do all the steps [of life].” The audience was paying respect to the journey of an old woman who had been an actress, and this old woman was being “accepted and welcomed” one last time. She was being seen and honored as a parent, a recovering alcoholic, a sailor, and a widow married two times over.
Billy Mootos was the performer quickest to adapt his inflexion to fit character and context. At this reading, his timing was impeccable. He shined brightest when voicing the character of the son Alex who remained unquestioningly loyal to his mother. Premortem her son/character Alex was her comic relief during trying times. Later in this mother’s life, she is determined to move to California and to break into acting. Mootos’ character Alex had amused us all, but most importantly Alex had amused his demoralized mother. Thank you for being that one person who can get me to laugh during backbreaking times. Because smiles are actually magic. I think that you can only understand this when you reach your 70’s. When your adult son has become one of your best and lifelong friends.
I wish my own Grammie could have seen this play with me. If she were living, if she had been with me last night, then I would have brought her to shake Donna Sorbello’s hand. Sorbello was the main source which pumped blood and stamina back into this oral herstory.
Barn Sale leaves its audience with existential questions: what will be your life story? Who will tell it, where, and to whom? While you’re here (right now reading this) who determines what it is to be a responsible adult? What is the history of the objects in your life? How do those objects and their histories affect your psychology and social outlook? Do you realize that, one day after your commemorative service, every one of those objects – along with their significant psychologies and outlooks – will either be brought to a trash dump or sold to someone you may never know? Those are tough and cynical questions, aren’t they?
Barn Sale pleads for you to remember that life isn’t about some boat you bought or even the physical space you call home. It claims that life is about remaining open enough to accept differences, so that you can share joy with your diverse community of family and friends. It may be a story about a heterosexual upper-middle class white woman, but the play’s themes examine the universality of heartbreak and the human fight to never give up hope.