Last year, Healdsburg’s Raven Players surprised this critic with a very interesting production of Quiara Alegría Hudes “Water by the Spoonful”. The play, which tells parallel stories of the tribulations of a returning Iraq war vet trying to assimilate back into civilian life and a group of recovering drug addicts trying to stay clean, was not what I expected from this theatre group whose home is located one block from the quaint wine country destination’s town square. It was a fascinating variation in the norm of this venerable community theatre.
This year, they’re opening their season with not one, but two very interesting shows running in repertory – a serious comedy called “Church & State” and the intense drama “Time Stands Still”.
With just 72 hours before election day, North Carolina Senator Charles Whitmore (played by Matt Farrell) is having a crisis of faith. A recent school shooting in his hometown has led him to question his belief in God and in his usual staunch defense of the Second Amendment. What’s worse, he’s admitted as much to a reporter. His re-election campaign manager is apoplectic. His Bible-quoting, Glock-toting wife will have none of it. He’s about to make the biggest campaign speech of his life. Will he stick to the script or speak from the heart.
Playwright Jason Odell Williams has written an interesting 80-minute polemic on the political paralysis that has gripped our nation on this subject. While there’s no doubt where Williams and director Steven David Martin stand on the issue of gun control, the play does not reduce those who take a different stand to cartoon figures. He’s does, however, wrap the debate in a sitcom-like script albeit one with a joltingly dramatic climax.
Farrell does well as the conflicted Senator, though he lacks some of the gravitas and maturity one would expect from a southern politician. Priscilla Locke is terrific as the tough-as-nails wife, and Katie Watts-Whitaker holds her own in scenes between the two. Zack Acevedo plays multiple roles and provides some of the play’s lighter moments as a campaign gofer.
For the second show. Caitlin Strom-Martin directs a very strong cast in the Donald Margulies-penned “Time Stands Still”. Maureen O’Neill plays Sarah Goodwin, a photojournalist returning home after being blown up by a roadside bomb in Iraq. She’s accompanied by her partner James (Rusty Thompson), a reporter who had returned stateside earlier after suffering a breakdown from his own war zone experiences. While Sarah’s are more visible, both individuals have scars that run deep.
The scabs from those scars are ripped by off by the arrival of Sarah’s editor Richard (Pablo Romero) and his rather young (“There’s young, and there’s embryonic.”) and deceptively lightweight girlfriend Mandy (Emily Tugaw). Their relationship has James contemplating a less chaotic life while Sarah looks to return to her work. Time may stand still but relationships don’t.
Margulies’ thought-provoking script about life’s dramas both big and small is well-served by the artists involved in this production.
Kudos to the Raven Players for continuing on their occasionally-out-of-the-ordinary programming path.
‘Church & State’ and ‘Time Stands Still’ run in repertory through October 7 at the Raven Performing Arts Theater in Healdsburg. There are Thursday through Sunday performances but the specific show dates and times vary.
For more information, go to raventheater.org