Cobblestones Productions made their debut on the Off-Off-Broadway scene last fall with a somewhat less-than-distinguished attempt at Moliére. That production wasn't helped by the decision to stage the piece in the smoky environs of the notorious club Limelight. For their current production, the New York premiere of Mary Hanes's The Crimson Thread, they have once again chosen to produce in an unlikely venue, this time in the downright unpleasant Space 24, aka The New York Comedy Club. Hampered by a tiny stage and horrendous lighting facilities, the worst aspect of performing in this dreary room is the fact that, being a club, the policy of drink minimums is not waived for a legitimate stage production. Not a good idea, especially when club performers are fleeing these rooms because these tabs, which escalate over and above the price of admission, tend to keep audiences away. However, like the enchanting Measure for Measure, which played this same room earlier this season, Cobblestone delivered a beautifully acted, well-directed production that more than made up for the physical limitations of the performance space.
Hanes's lyrical play follows the lives of three generations of Irish sisters from the time of the mass migration from Ireland in the mid 1800s, to first-generation Americans, up to the aftermath of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911. If at times Hanes occasionally wears her political heart on her sleeve, The Crimson Thread is nevertheless a powerful and genuinely moving work. It succeeds because her characters are so gut-wrenchingly human, and their experiences are so universally identifiable, regardless of sex, ethnic background, or political beliefs. And under Kevin G. Shinnick's assured, sensitive direction, six superb actresses brought these indomitable figures to life with performances of glowing, natural truth.
Paula Nance and Brandy Mettert were heartbreaking as they faced the fact, when one of the sisters leaves for America, that they would never see each other again. Kathleen Cahill was riveting as a recently widowed young woman lost in her grief. Melissa Kate Miller, as the sister who saves her from despair, was delightful, displaying a graciously cool demeanor and unfailing sense of humor as she slowly but surely brought her sister back from the brink. As a study in opposites, Lisa Ann Frisone and Courtney Gable were terrific, especially Gable as the sister who must decide between her loyalty to her family and her political convictions as a union organizer in the aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.
The production was, by necessity, barebones, although simple props and set pieces established mood, place, and time without undue fuss. Foye Dashielle provided lovely costumes that caught each period with parsimonious simplicity.
After a rocky start last fall, Cobblestone has rebounded with surprising strength. If this production of The Crimson Thread is any indication, the gutsiness that fueled their birth is supported by the taste and intelligence to ensure their growth. Now if only they would start booking their productions into more propitious spaces....
(Also featuring choreography and performance by Melissa Sherling.
Sets, lighting and sound uncredited.)
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Copyright 2000 Doug DeVita