The Connection Theatre Company's current production of The Wake of Jamey Foster at the Alternative Space at the Cherry Lane Theatre explored the world of self-pity, missed opportunities, and personal reinvention. Performed in New York for the first time since its Broadway debut 20 years ago, the piece is a valiant effort in capturing a time, people, and place whose universal struggle was immediately recognizable.
When Jamey Foster dies after being kicked in the head by a cow, his friends and family gather to bid him farewell. It's here the troubles begin, when almost everyone in the play has an unresolved bone to pick with the deceased, and they are left to "make things right" for themselves.
The very first impression of the production that stood out prominently was the dazzling set by Michael Kramer. Paintings and objects all over the walls resembled a museum, very much like the inside of a southern home.
Even though the first act was slow, it introduced some lovable characters in Pixrose Wilson (Ashley Wilkerson) and Katty Foster (Lisa Stump Pine), who seemed to captivate the audience with their feminine southern charm. The pair ran off with the prize for the most convincing characters in the play. The detail to their onstage work was attention-grabbing.
Tracey Silver played Marshael Foster, the wife of the deceased, who cannot decide how she feels about her husband's death but finds personal rejuvenation by the play's end. During the second act, she and Wilkerson shared a stirring scene. It was almost as if the actresses started the play anew with refreshed perspectives.
Director Christopher Presley did an outstanding job of making use of such a small space with his creative staging, and Kris Decker's lighting design lent a compassionate mood to the varied emotional scenes. Costume design by Cheryl McCarron was unsettlingly true to the time and place.
Vince Phillip played Wayne Foster, the hot-blooded brother of the deceased. The striking actor started the show with a frenzied energy that he kept up throughout the play. His moments of infidelity with his sister-in-law Collard Darnell (Anna Van Etten) proved riveting. The character's only way out of his wearisome existence seems to be a vicarious life through Van Etten's saucy persona.
Leon Darnell (played well by Jay Charan) lent great comic relief to the tensest moments in the show but his Mississippi accent noticeably vanished by the second act. Wilkerson played his love interest, and this provided the play with the stolen romantic moments that were an essential change from the uninterrupted family bickering in Henley's dialogue.
Paul Van Etten played a dim-witted but kindhearted personality as Brocker Slade.
Lost opportunities and the inability to blame others for our own misfortunes seem to be the root of Henley's revived play. Jamey Foster's death spawns a new life for his loved ones and the message to discover one's own peace of mind shines through. There is little doubt that he is smiling from his coffin -- probably even laughing. May he rest in peace.
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Copyright 2002 Jade Esteban Estrada