Southern Oregon University's "Invisible Threads" explores heady ideas about the borders between reality and illusion, and tests the gray area between right and wrong, while managing to keep the audience engaged and entertained for most of the ride.
As an ambitious new play by a local playwright, it does have some rough edges. But it also has an intriguing premise, warm humor, complex characters and strong performances.
The play-within-a-play opens with a family in crisis. Twenty-year old Jack is depressed and suicidal, his jaded older sister Emily has cancer, their innocent, 13-year-old sister Ayla is lost in the chaos, and their mother, Cheryl, is on the brink of despair. When a mysterious, chameleon-like woman sets out to help them, emotional tensions begin to build. She starts by enlisting some struggling actors, their stage manager and a befuddled bureaucrat to help the family.
What: David McCandless' "Invisible Threads"
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, March 7-9, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 9-10
Where: Center Stage Theatre on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland.
Tickets: $21, $18 for seniors and $6 for students. Call 541-552-6348
This unlikely, extreme-improv troupe infiltrates the family, posing as a sassy Southern maid, a gentle British tutor, a New Age healer and a doctor. As they settle into their characters, they grow more emotionally involved with the family. Many questions are posed regarding ethics, the possibilities and limits of theater, and the healing power of love. Some are answered. Most are not. But the playwright's goal is more to pose these thought-provoking questions than to answer them.
Playwright and director David McCandless, SOU director of the Center for Shakespeare Studies, borrows elements from Shakespeare, blending them with modern comedic drama into a truly original piece of theater. The result is a slightly confusing, but poignant, funny and even magical play with a strong ensemble cast.
The second act gets a bit muddled as secrets are (partially) revealed. The symbolic parallels of the final Shakespeare scene are clear, but the scene itself seems grafted artificially into the play, and the result is a bit jarring.
Despite its flaws, "Invisible Threads" contains many rewards for playgoers. McCandless is a fine writer and director. His script is layered with meaning, and his characters are drawn lovingly. He gives the actors plenty of time to grow, and they stay connected with the audience.
The student cast includes Mig Windows, sparkly and charming as the benevolent puppet master who sets the play in motion, and Ginger Lockhart, sweetly vulnerable as the grieving, desperate mother. Other cast members include Mackenzie Bizon, Russell Yamamoto, Shadee Vossoughi, Jeffrey Allen Hayes, Danny Walker, Olena Hodges, Neal Schoonmaker and Gavin Douglas.
The well-staged production and a functional set keep the focus on the actors. Scenic design is by Sean O'Skea, light design by Andrew Trent, and sound design by Kevin Burnette. Delightful costumes by Kayla Bush clearly define each character and underscore the play's funny moments.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.