Street Corner Arts' Pocatello
Rich performances highlight the pain, hope, and heart in this staging of Samuel D. Hunter's family drama
Reviewed by Shanon Weaver, Fri., Dec. 8, 2017
Loneliness is a shadow you can't see – a paralyzing, relentless spectre barely registered by our minds at its worst. When surrounded by friends, family, and co-workers, the feeling is compounded: How can we be so alone with so many people in our lives? It must be in our heads, right?
Samuel D. Hunter's Pocatello delves into this notion brilliantly, crafting an elegant, haunting family drama full of heart, laughter, and the playwright's trademark exploration of empathy.
The play's true genius lies in its thematic juxtaposition; at its heart, it's about crippling isolation and loneliness, yet it's set in an Italian restaurant during "Family Week." In Street Corner Arts' production, director Benjamin Summers finds all the nooks and crannies of each character's specific pain and, with pinpoint accuracy, guides a ridiculously talented cast through each verse-chorus-verse beat. The pacing of the script is important: One moment there may be a frenzy of activity and overlapping dialogue, the next a quiet stillness shared by any two of the show's 10 actors. Summers handles the undulating rhythm with ease.
The set design by Chris Conard and Zac Thomas transforms Hyde Park Theatre into a failing franchise joint in the small "municipal corporation" of Pocatello, Idaho. It's a perfect re-creation of such establishments, and the pseudo-in-the-round setting brings the audience fully into the atmosphere. A single row of seats lines the two back walls of the stage, and though these audience members are lit and visible throughout, it almost conjures the idea that they're simply waiting for a table.
Within these walls unfolds the story of three families: two "regular" and one "work" – the last being curiously the least dysfunctional. Eddie (Carlo Lorenzo Garcia) owns the restaurant and is having a hard time admitting to his employees that they'll be out of business very soon. While dealing with this, he's also desperately seeking a genuine human connection, be it with his mother (Chris Humphrey), his estranged brother (Joel Gross), or his co-workers. One of those co-workers is having family trouble of his own: Troy (Jeremy Brown) is struggling to keep his marriage together as his alcoholic wife Tammy (Amber Quick) slowly rots while dealing with their angsty teen Becky (Sydney Huddleston) and Troy's dementia-ridden father Cole (Ev Lunning Jr.). The rest of the waitstaff, Isabelle (Kayla Newman) and Max (David Scott), are just happy to be working somewhere in the dead-end corner of Idaho ... though the Applebee's up the highway apparently pays more.
Outstanding performances highlight the glimmer of hope through isolation within each character. Quick is always in the moment, authentically living her choices for better or worse, with a fiery defiance concealing a deep melancholy. Gross is quite welcome back to the Austin stage; as Eddie's brother Nick (not "Nicky," damn it!), he seethes with a barely controlled contempt for his former life in Pocatello, now that he and his wife have found success elsewhere. Lunning makes the most of his limited stage time, fully inhabiting his character without playing to a stereotype. And Garcia brings Eddie to life with a quiet gentleness that could easily slip into "sad sack" territory but never does. The result is an engaging and honest search for connection. The play's final moments between Garcia and Humphrey are simply heart-wrenching.
To characterize these performances as "standout" would create a false paradigm, though, unnecessarily establishing a ranking from strongest to weakest, as even the "weakest" performance here might shine among Austin's best. In fact, the only flaw I found was in the cast size: each character is necessary and fully embodied, but some are so underused within the script yet acted so well that you wish you got to see more of them. This is particularly true of Lunning, Molly Fonseca's Kelly (Nick's wife), and Huddleston's Becky.
Pocatello is one of those rare dramas that had me often guffawing before tearing up. With emotion as rich and palpable as the passion poured into the production, the team at Street Corner Arts has a real hit on their hands.
PocatelloHyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd
Through Dec. 16
Running time: 1 hr., 20 min.