Nobody might have ever noticed the Herculean effort that goes into making a birthday party like this, until the pen of playwright Emily Schwend put it into a script that was lovingly massaged by Director Georgette Verdin… Kevin D’Ambrosio brings his still-waters-run-deep character to life so well we ache with tenderness at knowing his so special soul. You too may find yourself especially “processing” just how perfectly Brynne Barnard and Barbara Figgins portray the intimacy of their mother-daughter bonds, where fractions-of-expressions ricochet across a kitchen table filling every second of their interactions with weight.
It’s the kind of play that can take several minutes just to allow its main character to sit and smoke a cigarette in order to unwind after her hard day, and Barnard is the kind of actress who can make this kind of silent scene as full of meaning as any dialogue.
Brynne Barnard as the stoical matriarch and a trio of supporting actors assembled for Interrobang’s midwest premiere inhabit their personae with unconditional compassion and not a hint of condescension…
In Barnard’s hands, Amber shines through. She is tired, but not broken and for her performance alone, Utility is worth seeing.
Director Georgette Verdin shows great sensitivity towards both her actors and their characters. It would be very easy to let Chris slide into being an absolute loser, or Amber drift into being harsh and judgmental, but Verdin keeps the actors truthful, which makes them all the more vulnerable, and watchable. Brynne Barnard fills every moment with energy, and her cascading emotions are visible in every look. Patrick TJ Kelly brings an appealing warmth and charm to Chris, while Kevin D’Ambrosio’s Jim shows a depth of feeling that surprises Amber. Barbara Figgins’ Laura (immediately recognizable in the Texas grandma uniform of big sparkly T-shirt/capri pants/shiny sandals), instead of being loud and domineering, shows a lovely softness and care for her daughter when Amber nears her breaking point. Kerry Chipman’s set and Michelle E. Benda’s lighting design nail the simple small town aesthetic, as do Melissa Perkins’ costumes.A play like UTILITY could be easily missed because it’s a slice of daily life for many people, with simple themes and quiet revelations. To overlook this play, however, would be a mistake – it gives us insight into a sizable segment of America that seems unremarkable, but is actually full of dreams, heart, and humanity.
…[a] resonant portrait of family life deep in the shadows of the American dream.
Brynne Barnard’s characterization of Amber makes the play worth seeing alone, and the supporting roles are heartfelt and convincing. The scenery and props designed by Kerry L. Chipman are remarkable and draw the audience in to the low-income home before the actors set foot on stage—the dingy wallpaper, the plastic imitation-marble kitchen table, the used toys on the floor—all are purposeful and further the plot and the character’s struggle to make ends meet.
The struggle is real and I couldn’t be happier it’s on stage. Theatre is a unique window into the lives and psyches of others, and it’s integral to see the truth of so many women’s lives finally being explored… I loved the truthiness of this piece. Kudos to Interrobang Theatre Project for the excellent choice… and be prepared to think, breathe, and just be, in those still, small spaces in a hectic life. Utility is highly recommended.