A love story with a cutting edge


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By Doug Deuchler


Berwyn's 16th Street Theater has become known for its edgy, top-notch dramas, which often feature intense contemporary social issues. Their current production, a dark comedy, is no exception. Alabaster, by Alabama playwright Audrey Cefaly, is a tender yet often painful play about two women. Director Ann Filmer, who has assembled a solid cast, brings the conflicts between her characters to life with heartfelt intensity.

Several years earlier, June, played by Mandy Walsh, survived a horrific tornado in Alabaster, a rural locale in northern Alabama, but lost her family — both her parents and her sister. The family farm was pretty much destroyed by the storm and now badly-scarred June survives, functioning as a reclusive, undiscovered folk artist. She paints on the broken boards salvaged from her father's barn, which was destroyed by the twister.

A somewhat younger woman arrives named Alice (Jessica Kadish), a well-known photographer. She has spent her adult years behind the camera. Alice is doing a series about women with scars and wants June to allow her to take pictures of her. June is covered with scars from her experience in the storm. She's scarred on her face as well as her back and shoulders.

This fascinating story is not without its quirky aspects. Since the loss of her family members, June now lives alone with her two goats, Weezy and Bib. They are a mother and daughter. Weezy, portrayed by Wendy Clarendon, is a sassy, smart-aleck goat but she is also June's best (and only) friend. The goat continually makes the audience laugh, but she is wise in her way even when argumentative. She is a comfort animal with "attitude."

Weezy takes care of her elderly, ailing mother (Patricia Donegan), though the senior goat does not speak understandably. She simply speaks "goat," bleating and baahing, like an actual goat would. Neither character is dressed as a goat, by the way.

June and the visiting photographer run into almost immediate conflict. June is abrasive and combative but is not hesitant to be photographed. She wears her scars like armor.

Before too long we learn both women have endured lives of pain and loss. Although only one is physically marked, June and Alice are both scarred.

Director Filmer, who is also 16th Street's artistic director, keeps us connected with her characters as well as keeping both of them connected with each other. They bicker and flirt; the tension between them is instant and intense. Both deal with their pain through their art. They also seem to understand what the other needs.

Alabaster is engaging and bittersweet. But it ends, perhaps, a bit abruptly, leaving us wondering. 

Sydney Lynne designed the set. Benjamin L. White created the lighting. Anthony Churchill designed the projections which are amazing, such as a huge full moon behind the ruined farmhouse. Barry Bennett created the original music as well as the sound. There is an intense storm that is really spectacular.

16th Street Theater is renowned for frequently presenting new works. This production is no exception, although it's amazing to learn that Alabaster is part of the National New Play Network's "rolling world premiere," opening simultaneously in 11 cities from Ft. Myers, Florida, to Eugene, Oregon. Playwright Cefaly visited this Berwyn production and conversed with audiences during the preview phase before the show technically opened this past weekend.

See "Alabaster" at 16th Street Theater, 6420 16th Street, Berwyn, Thursdays and Fridays, 7:30 p.m., Saturdays, 4 and 8 p.m. on, select Sundays, 3 p.m., $30, reserved; $22, general admission; $18, Berwyn residents, low income, military. Tickets/more: 16thstreettheater.org, 708-795-6704.

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