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Pictured: Michelle Alejandra Limon and Wesley James. Photo courtesy of Coffee & Whiskey Productions.
By Bec Willett
She tells us her name is Victoria and that at the age of only 30 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In a brief prelude to the play, she has been invited to share her story, to remind us that cancer is stubborn and life is fleeting. It’s an unusual but sincere way to frame a play based on a true story of another young woman, Courtney; one who wasn’t a survivor. This play, “anything and always,” signifies a promise fulfilled by playwright and co-director of Coffee and Whiskey productions Nic Wehrwein.
It’s difficult to hide in a two-hander. Of course this risk, this vulnerability also makes it exciting. However, when said play is also autobiographical and an original work, the task can become overwhelming. In these situations actors often struggle to define the truth they should be playing – should their performance be a facsimile of a writer’s memory or drawn from the person they find themselves? Likewise, designers’ attentions can be siphoned into juggling the changing demands, rather than realizing a full vision. Meanwhile, the playwright contends with a division of mind between the integrity of the memory and the theatricality of the text, and of course the director is trying to grapple with all of this in addition to the regular mechanics of putting on a show. I believe it’s worth noting these particular obstacles in this type of work because, while “anything and always” isn’t fully realized, these artists’ ambition is palpable.
This production feels more like a workshop rather than a polished product – Matt Diel’s direction is often unfocused with slow pacing and lengthy transitions contributing to a running time well over two hours despite the assigned length. As Courtney, Michelle Alejandra Limon frequently tries to jumpstart the piece with her passion-filled monologues, yet even with these bursts of energy, the relationship between her and Wesley James (Art) – the lynchpin of our engagement in the whole play – remains underdeveloped. Where there should be an intimate romantic relationship that grows over time, impacting us with the gravity of her passing, there is only an air of flirtatious friendship.
The most precise and engaging portions of the show come from Mary Iris Loncto’s movement direction, primarily delivered with vigor by Limon. Yet, because these moments aren’t really connected through the direction or design, their polish feels alien – like glimpses of a different show instead of the integral moments of emotional discovery that they could be.
From the opening speaker to the words in the program, it’s clear that Coffee and Whiskey productions are earnest in creating work that is “an invitation to conversation.” My hope is that as they continue to tackle these important issues in their work that they will be able to access the time and polish they deserve.
A portion of each ticket will be donated to Courtney’s favorite charity, the Young Survival Coalition.
“anything and always” runs through October 29th. For more information visit coffeeandwhiskeyproductions.com