By Aimee Bingham Osinski firstname.lastname@example.org
I was offered the opportunity to attend a play at The Purple Rose Theatre Company on Friday. Completely unaware of what I would see, I was thrilled to attend something in that particular venue. The size and design of the stage feels intimate and the viewer can really get lost in the show. Roadsigns was a great production in which to get lost. My date, happened to be the perfect person to bring along to review this play. My husband was a music major in college with more discerning taste than me when it comes to talent and ability. Roadsigns, to my delight, is a lyrical play.
Based on a poem by Lanford Wilson,and the song he and Jeff Daniels wrote together, Jeff brings depth to the characters in the poem.The poem tells the tale of watching people on a Greyhound bus. The play affords the characters the opportunity to tell their individual stories, which are universal to the human condition; hope, loss, and grief. The writing is exquisite. Very rarely can an author evoke such emotion in me. Not only was I fighting back the tears, but within seconds of swallowing down a lump in my throat, I was laughing. The old adage, “be kind, you never know what someone is dealing with,” is especially highlighted in this production.
Father and son duo Jeff and Ben Daniels teamed up on the music. The music is incredible. I remember sitting in the audience, singing along with the cast, “I’m holding hands with the devil, yes I am,” glancing around to see if anyone was upset or refusing to sing, and no, the audience was having a great time singing those lyrics.
The set was brilliant, as the play has no intermission, no curtain, and takes place both on a greyhound bus and at an open mic night. There was a little stage, like one might see at an open mic night with a stool, a mic and an amp. In front of the stage, lined up towards the audience, sat two rows of stools, which the actors could move as needed Pictures hung in the background. Big square photos of the American countryside, things a person might see peering out the window on a bus trip.
The acting really brought it all to life. I felt invested in each character’s story. K Edmonds, as Tanesha, the singer heading to Detroit to chase her Motown dreams, clearly, as the role demands, has a great voice. She also has a great knack for timing, saying her lines at just the right moment for maximum comedic punch. Ruth Crawford, as Esther, broke my heart as the angry grieving widow. Kristin Shields, as Francine and love interest of older Lanny, wowed the audience with her vocal range, and was a convincing tired Mom. I found myself worrying about whether or not a single mom of two, at the time, would be able to obtain a loan, if needed. Her life already seemed pretty hard and unfair. Caitlin Cavannaugh, as sweet, innocent Darlene, whom I believe was fully capable of taking care of herself and a little wiser than she let on, Richard McWilliams as the drunk, possibly insane ex preacher. I was so relieved you were on the bus to minister to Tanesha and thoroughly enjoyed your euphoric shouts and dancing. David Bendena, as Lanny who remarkably aged believably throughout the play and managed to play the guitar, sing and act throughout. Rusty Mewha as Harmon, fully believable as a young soldier trying to woo sweet Darlene, with dramatic tales of future heroism and hilarious as a studio singer. Tom Whalen as Walter, the bus driver, nearly broke me during his performance of the song, with the lyric “Does it count as leaving if they don’t say goodbye,” I know I”m not the only one, the man next to me gulped down a sob. As we walked to the car my musical husband acknowledged the talent of all the singers on stage, but he also admitted that he prefers female voices but said, “the bus driver really has a beautiful voice.” I thought so too. I’m sure none of it could have come together the way it did without the spectacular direction of Guy Sanville.
Roadsigns is not to be missed. The story is so well crafted, I imagine it will be performed elsewhere. That said, don’t wait. The cast and theater really make it a magical experience. Be prepared to laugh and potentially cry, and be prepared at the end to be so invested in the characters that you want to talk to them about their lives as they leave the stage.
All performances will be held at The Purple Rose Theatre Company 137 Park Street in Chelsea. For more information or to make reservations call (734)433-7673 visit their website at www.purplerosetheatre.org.