Arts & Events

Theater Review: Patience Worth by Symmetry Theatre Company

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday October 05, 2011 - 01:53:00 PM

"Many a singer's career has been ruined by the premature singing of songs."

A play about frustrated personal and social aspirations, about mothers and daughters, men and women, Michelle Carter's new play, Patience Worth was premiered by Symmetry Theatre Company—one of the handful or two of the Bay Area's tiny independent troupes that stage unusual shows with acting and production values that can rival the artistry of the bigger theaters—tells the true story of Pearl Curran (Megan Trout), an almost painfully normal young woman of the nineteen-teens, the pain all her own, a yearning to be somebody better, or of a better class. Pearl had little education besides musical training, but became widely published, the words on the page ostensibly not her own, but those of Patience Worth, a 17th century woman's spirit Pearl claimed to be speaking for. 

From Patience's first manifestation from a ouija board wielded by Pearl's socially ambitious acquaintance Emily Hutchings (Elena Wright) and the reluctant Pearl, through the adoption of a foundling, Patience Wee (Alona Bach—memorable in Just Theater's "Down a Little Dirt Road" at the Berkeley City Club) to satisfy one of Patience the spirit's biddings, through recognition and contention over Patience's "dictation" (or ventriloquism) to Pearl, and the repercussions on Pearl's family of her mediumship, Carter's new play (she's best-known for Ted Kaczynski Killed People with Bombs and others premiered at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco), commissioned by Symmetry, in some ways is novelistic in its approach. It is well directed by Erika Chong Shuch, the choreographer/director who's worked with both Cal Shakes and Shotgun, realizing Pearl's spiritualist possession with a kind of pantomimic dance form for Megan Trout, effective and allusive of entertainment in the days of vaudeville ... 

"Peddle your prowess to another spook!"—Pearl's farewell to Emily as she takes possession of the spirit who possesses her. 

The cast—including Warren David Keith ( a frequent face on Aurora's stage) as Pearl's older husband, as well as the other men—publishers, journalists, "men of the world"—in her story (and Patience's) and Jessica Powell as Pearl's acerbic mother from the Ozarks and a couple more female authority figures (including a great turn as author-lecturer Agnes Reppler at the conclusion)—is strong, plays as a good ensemble and has great flexibility, which brings the story alive. 

Allen Wilner's set and lighting design's also strong—and simple—with good costume design by Jessica Powell and sound by Cliff Caruthers. 

The company's run just ended at Thick House on Potrero Hill in San Francisco; play, playwright, theater company are all deserving of a repeat of this effort, and of audiences for their further ventures. (Symmetry will be producing Emilie by Lauren Gunderson--Exit, Pursued by a Bear--about Voltaire's paramour, at the City Club early next summer. )