Dallas — Small theatres have to prioritize their desires. They’ve got to choose between wants and needs. There’re a lot of compromises on the way to the goal of a fully fleshed new script, thoughtful direction and a talented cast. But, with the world premiere of Blake Hackler’s The Necessities directed by Joel Ferrell, Second Thought Theatre doesn’t have to settle. Unlike the characters of this moving, yet hopeful play, they’ve got it all.
Set designer Diggle creates a forest clearing in-the-round, featuring a weathered picnic table. The trees are textured tubes suspended from the ceiling. Their gentle swaying and the fact that the dirt- and twig-covered floor is raised in a saucer-like dais inserts an extra layer of intrigue to the evening’s anticipation. Liz Sokolak adds to the ambiance with atmospheric sounds and long ethereal underscoring. It’s up to Aaron Johansen to move the action between this clearing, an apartment, Walmart and a Baptist picnic. It all has to come together for the supernatural finale.
And it does.
Matthew Gray is Peter, a man with a past. Christie Vela is Debbie, a beleaguered Walmart employee. Allison Pistorius is Carly, a beleaguered Walmart shopper. They’re the grown-ups. Parents, even. Tex Patrello plays Carly’s son, Ward. In a series of carefully acted scenes, we learn that they’re all newcomers to a small, East Texas town for which none have connection or affection. It’s not about getting there as much as getting away from wherever they’ve been. By making them essentially travelers, Hackler focuses more clearly on what the necessities are for carrying on in this life.
If it’s not place, it’s got to be people, right?
Only there are some people that you don’t get to choose. Family. If the secret to trouble-free traveling is packing light, the opposite should make for some good drama. Hackler makes sure that the adults have a lot of baggage. Running perpendicular to the theme of dutiful love are the choices that remain in the characters’ control.
Peter chooses to ask out Debbie. Debbie chooses to see Carly for alternative healing. As the adults choose their community, Ward lurks outside looking skyward, though Carly is suspicious that his nighttime activities are more sinister than that. Peter establishes a relationship with him there and returns to talk stars, Battlestar Galactica and more. Sexuality is fluid in the play, a tangible expression of discovering the line between need and desire.
Some characters are more burdened with that line than others.
This is a true ensemble piece as each of the characters has choices and changes to make. Director Ferrell is careful to keep the choices clear, sometimes holding a character onstage deliberating in one scene as another enters the space for another. The entering and leaving accentuates the choice and the isolation of the character that has to make it. Even though the cast is full of reliable talent, they can still surprise. Matthew Gray and Christie Vela’s picnic scene, for instance, will tickle your romantic toes as they make chess-like movements toward saying, “Yes” to risking a relationship. Allison Pistorius’ firecracker Carly gains our sympathy for the weight of parenting without ever asking for it. If Tex Patrello stands apart as a newcomer amongst these acting well-knowns, it’s all to the good. It reinforces their age and, by contrast, the ethereal quality of Ward.
There are mature themes and scenes in the play and they are movingly portrayed, but it’s only fair to warn sensitive viewers of them, as well as a suicide. How cavalierly it seems to be treated will largely depend on how the audience connects with the supernatural thread of the play. The character’s life is clearly over, but it may feel more like traveling on, depending.
Hackler’s incredibly rich meditation on love and life has found a director who gets the balance just right. Ferrell has found a talented cast who create strong and sensitive performances. Second Thought gets the world premiere of a play that is sure to be produced and produced.
Everyone gets what they want.
And we get what we need.
» Read our interview with Blake Hackler here