Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Transformation. It is the theme this season as Flint Youth Theatre transforms into Flint Repertory Theatre bringing a hearty slate of plays and presentations to its stages and offering quite truly something for everyone.
Producing Artistic Director Michael Lluberes launched the 2018/2019 season Friday evening with a world premiere performance of Alex Moggridge’s darkly comic The Boatman. It peers into that murky instant between the moment of death and what comes after to find a sort of system in place to ease the transition.
The career the Boatman (Bret Beaudry) is charged with becomes evident immediately as he ferries a woman botanist (Connie Cowper) along the River Styx to “the other side”. In what seems an easy routine developed over eons, he chats with her about her life and the things she loves. Beaudry is kind, yet slightly anxious as Cowper sweetly expresses her character’s nervousness with nearly non-stop, almost panicky conversation. When the Boatman asks if she is ready, she hands over a coin and her grand memories slip away as it is done.
Cowper later plays two other roles as passengers – an Old Woman quite ready to move on, and a Poet for whom Beaudry gently compares the journey to a sand castle being washed away by the sea.
Next in line for the boat trip, Rico Bruce Wade is a diplomat. He arrives on time with an air of confidence that seems to wane as the boat heads out. Still the Boatman runs through his routine only interrupted by the Water, a character in it’s own right. Later Wade will reappear as Time, an interesting and clearly in-charge fellow.
A prominent character(s) on the dock is the Three-Headed Dog. It is the underworld after all, so this snarly, sweet, and sensitive trio has a chance to interact with everyone as they come along. But when a young woman explodes upon the stage clearly launched from some watery origin, even the Dog(s) are taken aback.
Violet (Meagan Kimberly Smith) is anything but ready to sail along to “the other side”! She manages to confound the Boatman, the Dog(s) and even Time in her continued refusal to go quietly. Smith brings a rowdy, unrestrained freshness to this role. She is intrigued by the boat, the Water and the whole general area but has no desire to go further.
She interacts liberally with the Dog(s) as she clearly understands the individual nature of each and speaks to the “middle dog” (Deidre S. Baker) most of the time. Jordan Climie is growly and gruff as Dog 2 and Shelby Lynn Coleman’s Dog 3 is buoyant and bubbly. These three double as the Water and are often moving the boat about and splashing.
Yes! The Elgood stage is a dark wharf atmosphere with the river at its heart. The boat is in a trough of water that stretches across the entire stage and dominates the setting. The dockside surrounds the back of the “river” with the audience closest to water on all three sides of the thrust stage.
Lluberes has done a masterful job with this show. It flows (pardon the pun) very nicely and the troupe is topnotch in their handling of this slightly unsettling subject. Further compliments must go to Shane Cinal for this amazing scenic design. Indeed, the entire production team deserved to share in Friday night’s standing ovation.
We won’t reveal the eventual outcome of the Boatman’s crisis here, but we will recommend this show highly. It is suspenseful, intermittently comic, dark, often irreverent (language) but mesmerizing in its focus.
The Boatman is recommended for teens and adults. It continues at Elgood Theatre September 29 at 2pm & 8pm, September 30 at 2pm (ASL interpreted) and October 5 & 6 at 8pm, and October 6 and 7 at 2pm. For more information contact www.FlintRep.org or 810-237-1530/ Tickets 810-237-7333