Alayne Hopkins, Catherine Johnson Justice, Sara Marsh, and Ryan Lindberg from Outside Providence.
Photo by John Eastman
The very beginning of Outside Providence, the debut show from Dark & Stormy Productions, provides an absolutely thrilling moment. As the lights go up at the converted office space in downtown Minneapolis used for the production, Rosemary (Catherine Johnson Justice) bangs on the front door, demanding to be let in by her sister, Ginger (Alayne Hopkins).
The din from the street must have been noticeable, as was Rosemary's scripted, foul-mouthed rejoinder out of the door. Coincidence or caused by a concerned call, the Minneapolis police squad car that slowly drove by a couple of minutes later certainly set the needed on-edge mood for the trio of rough one-acts from playwright Edward Allan Baker.
In many ways, the Powered by Engine setting was a real star. Three distinct playing areas were stuffed into the office, with the audience moving deeper into the building as darkness spread outside. It was similar to the descent taken by the characters, who found themselves in increasingly difficult situations.
Baker's plays, set among the downtrodden souls of Providence, Rhode Island, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, offer a rough view of humanity, where old hurts never heal and the sins of the past are never forgiven. In the first play, Rosemary is on the brink of losing her children and believes her sister, Ginger, is partially responsible. In Face Divided, husband and wife Debbie (Sara Marsh) and Freddie (Ryan Lindberg) confront the abuse that lies in their pasts as they wait at a hospital where their young daughter is in the ICU. Finally, Delores gives us another sister act (Hopkins and Marsh) steeped in abuse, lost potential, and old family feuds.
In other words, it's not the jolliest of evenings, and Baker doesn't give much room for his characters to breathe. They have been lost long before the virtual curtain comes up on these slices of their lives, and they aren't going to find much but the occasional ray of hope amid the dreary reality of their lives. While they pack dramatic weight, it's not easy to find places to engage or empathize with the characters. They come off more like the tragedies on TV news: something to pause, think about for a second, and then be glad it's not us.
Sharper acting and direction (from Matt Sciple) could help, but the one-acts get locked in the shouting style of performance from the very beginning, which doesn't relent until the end. Apart from being outsized for the tiny confines of the space, all the noise prevents us from truly connecting with the characters. In general, these are deeply flawed people, but there needs to be some kind of empathy or we don't make any kind of connection. It all threatens to be a one-note performance that takes away from the potential the company shows.
IF YOU GO
Through Sept. 15. No performances Labor Day weekend
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91 10th St. S., Minneapolis
$25 suggestion donation
For tickets and information, visit online.