BLUE HILL — Once again I am amazed and impressed at how local theaters are rising to the occasion of this pandemic. Professional, amateur and even local schools have been finding innovative ways to keep the shows going on.
The New Surry Theatre is a prime example. Determined not to close the curtains on its 2020-21 season Artistic Director Lori Sitzabee went ahead last spring with their chosen play “The Laramie Project,” figuring out a way to successfully present it online. A political comedy followed and last weekend NST performed a staged reading of “Looking for the Pony,” a heart-wrenching work by Mount Desert Island playwright Andrea Lepcio.
It is a true story is based on the relationship between the playwright and her older stepsister.
While this was billed as a reading, I saw no scripts in hand, and the portrayals by all the cast members were fully formed.
Especially notable were those of Heather Richard as Oisie, the younger sister, and Reva Kominsky, who plays Lauren, the big stepsister, who comes into Oisie’s life when they are 5 and 10 years old, respectively. Both actors excellently show us the strong bond, that formed from the day they meet as children until Lauren’s death as a young wife and mother from an aggressive breast cancer.
As I said, it is heart-wrenching, but so worth the tears shed watching how these two sisters navigate through the different stages of their often turbulent lives. Richard, as Oisie, was especially effective at defining these stages, changing her body language, facial expression and tone with each age change. At first, I questioned Kominsky’s choice not to change her demeanor other than in the most subtle ways. From age 10 to 40 she is the mature mentor to her little sister, and steadfast support to her family and her patients as a social worker. Even as she struggles through one invasive cancer treatment after the other, she maintains control, refusing to let her life, or her sister’s, be dominated by her disease. In the dialogue, the playwright makes it clear that this is who Lauren was, at all ages, the calm eye in the center of the storm, the fellow happy manure shoveler certain that somewhere there is a pony to be found.
In this online presentation of the play we see doctors, nurses, technicians, a rabbi, a psychiatrist, a professor, a lawyer, a fellow cancer patient, a couple of wigmakers, a secretary and … well, an army of medical professionals and tangential people, who pretty much lay siege to Lauren’s life for three years — popping in and out of zoom boxes surrounding the two sisters, issuing orders, making comments, weeping, pontificating and giving us a sense of the controlled pandemonium that ensues during an extended medical crisis.
With only a couple of tech glitches (a few seconds of frozen screens), the other cast members did a fine job of picking up their cues and, thanks, I am sure, to some deft direction by Veronica Young, defining their diverse multiple characters.
I grew especially fond of Jim Fisher’s Saul, a querulous old gent whom Lauren is helping to recover his stolen savings. He is equally effective as Oisie’s writing professor and a clumsy oncologist. But really, the entire cast which includes, Sarah Domareki, Dennis Moran, Steve Rappaport and Tiffany Laufer, some of them performing for the first time, did a terrific job finding both the pathos and the humor in their roles.
For more information about this and other NST programs, visit newsurrytheatre.org.