Dallas — A giant stone hearth presides over the western furniture nestling in Theatre Three’s steep raked in-the-round performance space. Its flame doesn’t really feel warm until the lights dim and the wind begins to whistle outside. Combined with original music by Brian Coleman, it’s as if the house, as well as the audience, is waiting for Day Light, written and directed by Bruce R. Coleman. Darkness and light, cold and warm, bleak and hopeful. These are all motifs weaving amongst the family saga of the Panhandle plains Poteet clan in this world premiere.
Coleman writes with the brush of a novelist. These characters have a way of articulating their pent-up yearning with enviable clarity. It comes in handy considering the density of this plot would impress R. R. Martin. The result is a stirring feast of drama that has at its core hope and love.
Cindee Mayfield plays Ada, the steel-spirited widow left to rear sons on her own. Her boy, Caleb (Blake Blair), must pick up the slack left by his father’s passing and older brother’s enlistment in the Confederate army. The two run the ranch with a fierce family-first attitude. Blair can match Mayfield’s sincerity with his own titanium-covered tenderness. The exposition of the impending winter storm passes effortlessly as the two fret in the pre-dawn hours.
And there are things to fret about.
Caleb’s younger brother, Micah (Max Swarner), has married Kate (Abigail Palmgren) and now she’s with child. Youngest brother Natty (Matthew Holmes) is eager and impetuous. Aunt Minnie (Connie Coit) came to visit from up East and has over-stayed her welcome. Caleb’s best friend, Harris (Sterling Gafford) is coming over with some portentous matters to discuss. If that weren’t enough, two folks played by Greg Jackson and Sky Williams arrive, affecting the whole family.
The rich plot and detailed characters are just the tools through which Coleman examines relationships. The bonds of family are laid bare and compared with those of friend and of foe. Love is supposed to conquer all, but what form does it have to take? Do we have a choice in the matter or are we at the mercy of blood, of duty, of passion?
With relationships playing such a central role, the chemistry of the actors is paramount. Blair and Mayfield give the evening an excellent backbone, but there are more delicate needles to thread. Williams has a strong bond with Jackson, while Gafford and Blair make just as powerful of a team. These are vital to the success of the evening as their characters’ relationships are unconventional for the time.
There are singular successes as well. Holmes is fresh-faced and passionate. Coit’s doting spinster provides a warm alternative to Mayfield’s stern determination. Both are excellent as the sisters with more life under their belt than the rest, but who have a lot of life left. Jackson launches and lands an enormous monologue that bends almost everyone’s opinion. At the end of the evening, however, it’s Caleb’s story brought to life beautifully by Blair that centers the whole affair.
The design team meets Coleman’s appetite for detail head on. Rodney Dobbs creates a rough stone and worn wood ranch house that Amanda West’s lights can change from cold and hard to warm and inviting. Rich Frolich keeps the wind howling outside with character-specific musical punctuations courtesy of Brian Coleman. Director Bruce R. Coleman answers his brother’s compositions with equally character and period specific costumes.
In the midst of the usual fluffy holiday fair, Theatre Three has a meat-and-potatoes option that’s arguably a better alternative.
Day Light tastes great and is more filling.