Review: Yes, Florida Rep’s ‘Alabaster’ is terrific. You can stop texting me now.January 17, 2020
First, someone messaged me on Facebook. Then a text from a friend. Then a phone call. Then another message. And another.
They all said the same thing: You HAVE to see ‘Alabaster’ at Florida Repertory Theatre. It’s amazing!
I wasn’t planning on reviewing the show, which opened Dec. 20 at the Fort Myers theater and continues through Jan. 26. But those hosannas from people I know and trust — combined with the fact that Florida Rep just nominated “Alabaster” for a Pulitzer Prize — made me change my mind.
So finally, three weeks after opening night, I ventured out on a Sunday to see what all the fuss is about.
And you know what? It lived up to the hype.
“Alabaster” is both funny and heartbreaking: A story of two wounded people, mourning after loss, who find themselves on opposite ends of a photo shoot. The location: The remnants a tornado-ravaged Alabama farmhouse that crushed a woman’s family and left her scarred, physically and emotionally.
Former celebrity photographer Alice arrives to document the woman’s scars — the visible ones, anyway — but her subject, June, proves to be conflicted, prickly and combative. Slowly, though, they begin to open up to each other as the camera shutter clicks.
“My life is a tragedy,” Alice admits.
“Ditto,” June responds.
And none of those had a talking goat, either.
Yep: A talking goat. Her name is Weezy, and she’s fan-frickin’-tastic.
Weezy — played by Carolyn Messina with swaggering Southern grit and lots of laughs — doesn’t really talk. At least, I don’t think she does. Instead, the mouthy goat is meant to be a stand-in for June’s inner thoughts and also a confidante for someone who’s isolated herself for way too long (I kept thinking of Wilson in the Tom Hanks 2000 movie “Cast Away” — except Weezy DOES talk back. And how.).
Director Jason Parrish has assembled a solid cast here: Messina is perfect as the beer-drinking, profanity-spouting, Bob Marley-shirt-wearing Weezy (and she’ll crack you up with little moments such as the goat-like way she eats popcorn). Sara Morsey breaks your heart as Weezy’s sick mother Bib, despite getting no lines other than the occasional, weak “ba-a-a-a.” And Dana Brooke’s photographer Alice radiates strength and confidence, along with an undercurrent of still-fresh pain after the death of her girlfriend and their unborn child.
Then there’s the always-terrific Rachel Burttram, fresh from filming her first TV role as Betty Grissom in the upcoming National Geographic series “The Right Stuff.” I’m so glad TV is finally giving this talented actor a national audience.
(More about Rachel Burttram: Fort Myers actor cast in National Geographic’s ‘The Right Stuff’)
Burttram packs a lot of heart and soul into poor, haunted June, a vibrant woman who’s buried her love of life along with the family she lost in that tornado. Now the traumatized June is left with just her goats, scars and paintings to keep her company.
Burttram balances this complex character beautifully. At turns, she’s sad and wounded, tense and volatile, sassy and profane — and sometimes, occasionally, when the clouds part and the sun comes out, she opens up and becomes her old self again. If only for a moment.
All this happens in a wonderfully rustic old farmhouse by set designer Richard Crowell: Weathered floorboards, a single bed in the middle of the floor and June’s folk-art-style paintings scattered all around (painted by Morsey, by the way. You can see more of her work next door at Arts for ACT gallery).
I must also mention sound designer Katie Lowe and lighting and production designer Rob Siler, who conjure up a jaw-dropping tornado onstage with flashing lights, howling wind, projections, and Burttram’s absolutely terrified June. It’s a stunning moment in an already stunning show.
“Alabaster” is still a work in progress, and playwright Cefaly is continuing to make changes as the play moves from theater to theater on its 11-theater “rolling world premiere” through the National New Play Network.
That’s a good thing, too. I found a few moments to be a little confusing, and I’m still not sure what to think of the fourth-wall-breaking yoga scene at the beginning of Act 2. It’s jarring and head-scratching, and I think it took away more from “Alabaster” than it added.
But despite that minor misstep, I’m happy to report that all those texts and messages were spot-on: “Alabaster” is a terrific show full of heart, hope and redemption.
Don’t wait for your friends to bug you about it. Go see this terrific play before it closes Jan. 26.
Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells (Facebook), @charlesrunnells (Twitter), @crunnells1 (Instagram)
If you go
When: Now through Jan. 26
Where: Florida Repertory Theatre, 2268 Bay St., downtown Fort Myers
Info: 332-4488 or floridarep.org