The Austin Chronicle

The Attic Space

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, December 21, 2012, Arts

The Attic Space

Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd., 736-5191
Through Dec. 22
Running time: 1 hr., 20 min.

It is difficult to describe The Attic Space, a new play from Palindrome Theatre and, according to the company, its last production.

This should not be mistaken as a condemnation of the show. On the contrary, cast and crew present a good production of the original script by artistic director and first-time playwright Nigel O'Hearn, who also directs. The script itself is impressive for a playwright without much production experience, and the set design from George Marsolek – an entire attic constructed in the playing space of Salvage Vanguard Theater – is thorough. Lead actors Babs George as Harriett and Ev Lunning Jr. as Harold are established pros who turn in solid, thoughtful performances.

The trouble comes when trying to explain the play itself. The dialogue points squarely to Pinter and Albee for influences, which means that "clear" and "easy" are two words that should not be used to describe The Attic Space. Instead, it's a play that allows characters to speak almost, but not quite, realistically, demanding that the audience listen on a different level. It's about letting the entire work wash over one's ears and drawing conclusions from the experience as a whole, rather than picking apart individual exchanges in hopes of discovering a central meaning after only one viewing of the play.

The play takes place in the attic of a house, where Harriett has hidden herself, apparently paralyzed by her own memories. Her husband Harold pops through the door from below, justifiably wondering what's going on and if she's all right. The two then play out what is in essence their entire decades-long marriage: fights and intimacy, misguided accusations and confessions. After they reach a point of some conclusion, they take a pair of puppets (designed by Tara Cooper, with puppetry action staged by Caroline Reck) and play out the same interactions they just struggled through in an attempt to understand what just happened, but this time, each plays the other's role using the puppet.

As in a marriage, neither partner is a clear winner or loser in their conflict, nor is the conflict itself that clear. It is intriguing, however. It's also sensitive in its exploration of two lives in their twilight years and what it means to try and understand the mountain of experiences and memories comprising a shared life.

Well wishes are due to the members of Palindrome Theatre, who have completed a solid final chapter of the company's oeuvre and who we hope will continue to contribute to Austin theatre under other company names.

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