Elyzabeth Gregory Wilders new play Provenance has a number of curious and mysterious things happening in it. Though all the questions are answered too sweetly and neatly in the end, the play tries taking a road less traveled to get from here to there, and the heady comic drama finds an emotional core that ultimately works its way around the wispy narrative.
The world premiere production of Provenance, part of B Street Theatres B3 series, again illustrates the difficulty and satisfaction of bringing new works to the stage. Provenance often feels like the first sketch of play with the writers intentions and ideas in broad relief through her characters. The ideas are charming, subtle and interesting, but the writing doesnt always fill them in.
What does come through fully formed are appealing performances from a well-cast ensemble led by the lustrous Julia Brothers as a woman on an unusual quest. Brothers Frances is a literary adventurer traveling the world in search of first editions of rare books that represent to her the authors most original intent.
Frances quest has led her to an unnamed library atop an unnamed mountain. In the librarys rare-books room, an intensely closeted woman oversees a shockingly mismanaged collection of fine books. The entire play takes place here in the large room stacked floor to ceiling with the rare volumes.
Kristine Davids Cleo, as Frances remarks, is in some ways like every stock librarian character weve ever seen. She wears shapeless skirts, frumpy sweaters and little horn-rimmed glasses. If she held on to herself any tighter, shed cut off circulation to her limbs.
Frances entry into Cleos domain is so unwanted, the librarian seems have a physical reaction. Frances has phoned earlier, looking for a particular book, and Cleo told her it was there. But when Frances arrives, Cleo cant produce it and makes a flimsy excuse for its absence. Frances, though not happy about it, says shell wait until the book shows up.
Cleo transforms from an uptight bitter pill into altogether sweet young woman when Dan Harlans George shows up. Cleos teaching George to read and write, though its quite clear Georges only purpose in coming up the mountain is to see Cleo under whatever pretense gets him in the door and in her company.
As Frances continually shows up, bringing coffee and making small talk, she reveals shes not only waiting for the book but for slightly estranged daughter Amelia as well. Brittni Bargers Amelia has gotten lost on the way to the library (which doesnt quite make sense as were told theres only one way up and one down the mountain) but eventually, after running into George, she finds her way. Amelia and Frances have issues and those come to fore soon enough.
Director David Pierini sensitively handles the plays elusive material, fashioning a production that approaches Wilders sense of a piece, which is charming, surprising, passionate and redemptive. You feel the play wants to go there, and the talented actors take it far as they can. Many audiences will likely bridge the remaining gap.
B Streets commitment to staging full productions of new works is an essential and important element that moves the art form forward. With Provenance, you feel a unique excitement seeing a promising play emerging on its B3 stage.
Call The Bees Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120.