It is a testament to the vitality of live theater that a small nonprofit acting company without a permanent home can commission a new play and make magic of it in a back room of a nondescript building in downtown New Haven. It is a further testament that theatergoers will spurn their televisions, Netflix offerings, and local movie theaters to witness that magic. The play is “Salvage“by George Brant, commissioned by Rebecca Jones, Mariah Sage, and Janie Tamarkin, the founders and artistic directors of Theatre 4, who wanted to produce and act in a play for three women characters. Finding few works that fit the bill, they approached Brant, an award-winning playwright (Elephant Graveyard, The Mourner’s Bench, Any Other Name), who came through with a gem of a play.
The play takes place in the basement of Roberta’s (Janie Tamarkin) home, where she and her only surviving child, Kelly (Mariah Sage), are sorting through boxes of memorabilia saved over a lifetime by Roberta’s recently deceased son, Danny. A storm violent enough to flood the basement is expected to hit within the hour, and Kelly is frantic to save everything connected with her older brother, whom she has adored and stuck to like glue since childhood. Roberta, although protective of the memory of her son, is more pragmatic about his life. He was 40 when he died, and never managed to leave home. He died while bicycling to a job at a record store that he’d had since he was a teenager. Roberta blames her son’s “flat-line” life on Amanda (Rebecka Jones), a girlfriend who broke up with Danny after their high school fling and later became famous by writing a book about a young loser whose life appeared to mirror Danny’s. A storm of the psychological kind hits the basement when Amanda comes looking for memorabilia that she thinks will rescue her faltering literary career.
On reading the play prior to seeing the production I found myself wondering why Theatre 4’s artistic directors would go to the trouble to commission and produce a play about three women characters only to have each character’s life shaped and defined exclusively by her relationship with a man, albeit a deceased one. But the play in production reverberates with many themes, including dependency, loss, and closure, the redefinition of the masculine (Danny was spurned in part because he was a sensitive soul) and the changes in a woman’s life when she can no longer use her relationship with a man as a source of identity and financial stability.
The fine pacing of the action, as directed by Maryna Harrison, seems to expand the otherwise cramped set, well-designed by Daniel Nischan to reflect Danny’s narrowly circumscribed life. The actors, members of Actors Equity who have performed across the U.S. and abroad, do an excellent job. Jones’s performance is polished although she plays Amanda a bit too personably given Amanda’s manipulative agenda. Sage expresses a childlike intensity that communicates Kelly’s tenuous grasp on reality and Tamarkin is the quintessential mother who refuses to lose her bearings despite her children’s inability to grow up.
Salvage, Theatre 4 at UpCrown Studios, 216 Crown Street, New Haven, CT 203-654-7711, www.t4ct.org. Through May 6th.