The darkroom of the soul

Tabula Rasa

By Molly Louise Shepard
Directed by Philip Hernandez
Phil Bosakowski Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

The Judith Shakespeare Company, which received an oobr Award last season for its inventive staging of Macbeth, put on another technically superb production with the New York premiere of Texas playwright Molly Louise Shepard's Tabula Rasa. Excellent acting, sound, and visual effects helped buoy a script that was well-written but seemed to be lacking some key scenes.

Tabula Rasa was the first new play, and first non-Shakespearean work, produced by the year-and-a-half-old Judith Shakespeare Company. Director Philip Hernandez (the company's executive producer) created the ideal mood for Shepard's memory play through music, lighting, and slides. A soundtrack of Willie Nelson singing such gentle standards as ``September Song'' and ``Stardust'' evoked both the narrator's bittersweet nostalgia and the languor of the small Texas town where she grew up. Her memories, along with the scenery, were illustrated by slides projected on the sheer curtains that formed the backdrop of the set. This potentially obtrusive and gimmicky medium was used sparingly here and was very appropriate in a story about a photographer.

The photographer is Thadia, who recalls her coming of age when she worked in a photo shop in the 1970s and was drawn to an elderly black customer who had lost her husband and daughter in an accident. Thadia's friendship with the melancholy old woman, Toxie, blossomed at the same time as Thadia's affair with a co-worker, exposing her to issues of love, loyalty, and racism for the first time.

Thadia was played in the present by Joanne Zipay and as a younger woman (known as Tad) by Jennifer Chudy. Physically, this was excellent casting since Zipay looked like she could be a grown-up Chudy. Their performances, like those of the entire cast, were very good. Most outstanding of all was Marlene C. Chavis's powerful portrayal of Toxie. All the actors used their looks, gestures, and emotions to great effect in creating their characters. Jeffrey Shoemaker, in particular, was memorable in a smaller role.

The lyricism and spirituality of Tabula Rasa resembled an August Wilson play. However, a big climactic scene was conspicuously absent. The play seemed to be building to a secret revelation that never transpired. It also needed additional scenes between Tad and Toxie. Their relationship as shown was underdeveloped considering how profound it ultimately was for Tad. Without these scenes, Tabula Rasa did not pack the punch it could have. The fine actors certainly could have carried off more intense drama.

(Also featuring Matthew David Barton, Joyia D. Bradley, Linda Tvrdy, and Godfrey L. Simmons Jr. Set, Jason Ardizzone; costumes, Emily Ockenfels; lighting, Carolyn Sarkis; sound, Jeffrey Swan Jones.)

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 1
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 2
Copyright 1996 Adrienne Onofri

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