Tess Maynard and her mother, Laura, are prepared to visit Mastavia (the city that’s also a country) to pick up a package left to them by Tess’ father/Laura’s husband. Just before they embark on this adventure, Laura dies. Tess decides to continue the adventure and advertises for a traveling companion who must have the same name as her mother. Enter the second Laura Maynard: a mysterious woman with something to hide. As Tess begins this journey of discovery, Laura begins a journey of escape. This is The City in the City in the City by Matthew Capodicasa and playing at the Blue Barn Theatre.
I was quite impressed by the construction of Capodicasa’s story. On the theatrical level, he actually wrote this as a staged reading which leaves theatres with oodles of flexibility when it comes to the technical aspects such as set design, sound, and staging. The story level is quite intriguing as well and I love that the parallel stories of the two women are told simultaneously, sometimes quite literally as they often speak at the same time. Capodicasa also has a grand gift for description as he often has his characters describe what they’re doing and seeing which permits the audience to paint pictures with their imaginations.
This particular production allowed Susan Clement-Toberer to step up her directing game to a whole new level. As I stated earlier, the play was written as a staged reading and had been performed as such at last year’s Great Plains Theatre Conference. This was its first staging as a full production which gave Ms Clement-Toberer a blank slate to work with and she’s painted a magnificent portrait. Using the guideposts of Capodicasa’s words, she has created an ethereal dreamscape which still has one foot planted in reality. The staging is superb and makes use of the entire theatre. Ms Clement-Toberer has led her two performers to skillful, sterling performances with a brisk pace and cue pickups so tight that a thin piece of paper couldn’t be wedged between.
Kaitlyn McClincy gives an exceptional performance as Tess Maynard. She’s a woman who has recently been dealt a rough hand by life. She’s lost her job and her mother. Now she has a chance to discover the father she’s never known by taking part in this strange adventure. Ms McClincy brings a hesitant adventurousness to Tess. This is a woman who has probably never been out of her neighborhood and now plots to travel to the other side of the planet with a stranger. She’s wonderfully sincere and conjures up needed seriousness when the moments call for it.
Both performers play multiple roles and some of Ms McClincy’s best characters are a guard at the gates of Mastavia who likes to toy with the two Americans and a truly haunting portrayal of the son of Laura Maynard. So realistic and believable is Ms McClincy’s voice as the child that, if my eyes were closed, I would have sworn it was another person playing the role.
Frankly, I was blown away by the acting powers of Kim Gambino. Not only does she ably play numerous roles, but she morphed into these characters with a snap of the fingers. Most impressive was a scene where Tess was interviewing Laura Maynards to be her traveling companion. With a slight change of posture, voice, and facial expression, Ms Gambino adopted nearly half a dozen distinct characters. My personal favorite of her alternate characters was a witty waiter at a jazz club who had the audience laughing from the gut with her dead-on delivery.
However, Ms Gambino does shine the most with her take on Laura Maynard. Laura is a shadowy character running from the one thing she can never outrun: herself. Ms Gambino brings a strong confidence to the role as Laura does bravely take on the challenge of traveling with a complete stranger who is ably able to help Tess on her quest. But she also brings a tragic cowardice to the role as running away from herself means running away from her son. Their phone conversations are some of the finest moments in the play.
The sound design of William Kirby is probably the best I’ve ever seen. Kirby’s use of sound of the show makes for a truly immersive experience as voices echo throughout the theatre and a phasing effect really adds to the dreamlike quality of some of the scenes. Ernie Gubbels’ lights were also of high quality especially with the Blue Room and his use of shadows and lights in the phone conversations. The set is credited to BLUEBARN and is ideal for imagination as the use of sheets and scaffolding take you from Tess’ apartment to Mastavia to a cemetery.
It’s most assuredly a unique piece of theatre that will suck audience members into the tale. Even more impressive, the show is still evolving which is the joy of working a new show. On opening night, a new scene was inserted just prior to opening and I just may catch closing night to see what new surprises and changes are added to the show.
The City in the City in the City plays at Blue Barn until June 17. Showtimes are 7:30pm Thurs-Sat and 6pm on Sundays with the exception of one 2pm matinee on June 10. There are no shows on May 20 and 27. Tickets cost $30 for adults and $25 for seniors (65+), students, and TAG members. For reservations, call 402-345-1576 or visit www.bluebarn.org. Due to strong language, this show is not suitable for children. The Blue Barn is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.