Tuesday, April 23, 2024

“Voices of Swords” Needs to Sharpen Its Points

SPOILER ALERT: This review will reveal plot points in “Voices of Swords” and surprises.

Playwright Kari Floren has created a good set-up for her serious-minded comedy about children faced with the caretaking of aging parents, a poignant topic that will resonate with many. Set designer Doss Freel has done an excellent job providing both a realistic living space and a flexible outdoor setting.

Loni Ackerman, a Broadway veteran, plays the widowed Olivia, a martinet of a mother and a capable retiree who is dreading the heart by-pass surgery she must have, fearing it will kill her. Kosey (Philip Christian) is Olivia’s only child, a busy son who works in Washington, DC; Kosey has hired an assistant Alexis (Celia Schaefer) to help his senior citizen parent get through this experience.

When Olivia realizes that this personal organizer is disorganized, she’s about to dismiss Alexis but realizes the woman can be an ally in reaching a goal: getting Kosey to return home for the operation. Here’s the story question for Act 1: will Kosey come back to be at her side? Yes, he does and the play’s strongest moment is when he marches into the living room and also fires incompetent Alexis.

From left, Loni Ackerman and Celia Scaefer Photo by Claire Taddei
From left, Loni Ackerman and Celia Scaefer
Photo by Claire Taddei

But since Act 2 has no story question, narrative tension dangles.  Though Olivia fears surgery will kill her, she survives. (Exhale.) Since the women have bonded, Alexis stays on as an employee. (Sorry, Kosey.)

Although director Eve Brandstein transports us into the three main characters’ inner lives with real belief and clear stage management, she cannot steer what is not on page, and the play, especially during the second act, stumbles.

From Left: Celia Shaefer, Gillien Goll and Bob Ari.  Photo by Nastassia Jimenez
From Left: Celia Shaefer, Gillien Goll and Bob Ari.
Photo by Nastassia Jimenez

Additionally, all the outdoor scenes with Alexis and her parents (Gillen Goll and Broadway pro Bob Ari) grind the action to a halt. While Mom and Dad sit on a park bench, their dutiful daughter brings meals in a picnic basket and their meandering chats swirl around restricted foods (meatballs and mayonnaise) and Alexis’s quarrels with her unseen siblings. Though these conversations could be insightful and advance the plot, currently, this boring back-and-forth is just dead air. When the big reveal comes — — Alexis is visiting not a nursing home but a cemetery and her parents are dead — — it’s not enough to justify the dilly-dallying in scenes that exist merely for exposition.

From left: Michael McKenzie and Celia Schaefer. Photo by Claire Taddei
From left: Michael McKenzie and Celia Schaefer. Photo by Claire Taddei

Another weakness is the problem of over-talking Alexis’s angst versus dramatizing these hurts or resolving them. For example, we never really find out why her teenage daughter will not return her calls. And Kari Floren adds unnecessary fuss by giving Alexis two indigent sisters (complained about but never heard from) along with a selfish brother and sister-in-law. Since there is a telephone argument between Alexis and her brother, which brings the relationship into focus, the playwright might consider eliminating the characters who pain Alexis if she cannot find a way to bring them to life.

Phillip Christian. Phot by Jonathan Slaff
Phillip Christian. Phot by Jonathan Slaff

Thanks to Kickstarter, 91 backers, and $10,031 raised, the producers mounted a nice-looking production and assembled six worthy players. With thoughtful revising, this play has the potential to be riveting.
— — — — — —
“Voices of Swords,” presented Off-Broadway by Right Down Broadway Productions, is onstage through September 7, 2014 at Walkerspace, 46 Walker St. (home of Soho Rep) in New York City.

Cast: Loni Ackerman, Bob Ari, Philip Christian, Gillien Goll, Michael McKenzie, Celia Schaefer.
Eve Brandstein directs.

Loni Ackerman. Photo by Claire Taddei.
Loni Ackerman. Photo by Claire Taddei.
Linda Ann Lo Schiavo
Linda Ann Lo Schiavo
Native New Yorker LindaAnn Loschiavo has been on the staff of L’IDEA since 1996 and coordinated L’IDEA’s 25th Silver Annniversary Extravaganza. Her works for the stage include “Courting Mae West,” which has been seen in New York City theatres and most recently in Melbourne, Australia. Her writing has appeared in “Anti-Italianism: Essays on a Prejudice” [Macmillan, 2011] as well as numerous magazines, literary journals, and newspapers. Her forthcoming book “Flirting with the Fire Gods” will be published by L’IDEA Press later this year. Loschiavo is the Editor for the English Language section of L”IDEA.

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