EDMONDS STORIES – Written by Nora Douglass; directed by Madge Montgomery. Produced by The Theater Company of Lafayette (300 East Simpson, Lafayette) through August 5. Tickets available at TCLStage.org.
Nora Douglass must count herself very lucky that she has found a theatrical home at TCL. They have previously birthed another of her full length plays and performed several one acts. Her best friend since college Madge Montgomery just happens to be a long-time director for TCL. Her sister Elizabeth Hart lives locally and apparently was happy to help put this production together.
This is a story about a Swedish immigrant family told from the times when nearly every adult was an immigrant from somewhere and it became a point of pride that all the children of a family were born in America. A time when the outward trappings of a house did not reflect the prosperity of the family that lived there. A time when the pecking order of origin, profession, gender and attendance at the right church with the proper amount of piety dictated the quality of your life. When acceptance into a community was predicated on humility, appearances and never “getting above yourself.” The Medin family struggles with these parameters.
A father, mother and four daughters live, work and grow up and older together. Reflecting shades of LITTLE WOMEN, each daughter has a distinct personality and place in the family. The oldest daughter Anna (Zeah Loren) knows she must work to help support the family and is hired out to a wealthier family as a companion. Her exposure to a better lifestyle, although she works to keep it from happening, causes a further rift with her mother. The second daughter Astrid (Cristina Twigg) – the rebellious one – wants to become a photographer and seems to have a knack for it. But she is too naïve to understand that her independent ways can bring shame on her family. The third daughter Emma (Valerie Clelland) is most influenced by her mother’s demands for orderliness and propriety. It is easy to see that she will grow up to be as critical and unhappy as her mother. The youngest Hyldi (Sri Bangaru) is still young enough to be hurt and confused by the tension in the house without understanding why it exists.
It evolves that the mother Johanna and the father Jonas have a different idea of what is important in life; a difference that renders them at cross purposes regarding where they are (a small town outside of Seattle) and why. Johanna had a secure life in Sweden with the promise of inherited land and prosperity. A disastrous mistake on Jonas’ part lost that security and he will never be forgiven for the result. In a time when divorce was nearly impossible, these two unhappy people are destined to live out their lives in isolated misery.
As a cast, these actors work well together to tell this intriguing story. The small stage of the Mary Miller Theater requires them pitching in to create various acting spaces within the confines of their house. The daughters are particularly appealing and reflect the familial connection without giving up their individual personalities. It’s easy to see that despite the difficulties of living with two unhappy people, the girls love each other and both parents. They just know not to cross their mother.
Dean Espitallier creates a Jonas that works hard at pleasing his wife even while knowing his efforts will never work to garner even a smile. He’s like a big St. Bernard that keeps coming back for more. While Munam Goodwyn is an excellent actress and gave the audience a tormented and repressed Johanna, originally her non-Swedish appearance created confusion. It soon became apparent, however, that this was one Swedish family with parents from the old country. Matthew Dickson also did a good job as Mr. Joe Jackson, an itinerant photographer who went from town to town taking pictures of people to sell. Camille Libouban-Gunderson has the small part of Olina, a neighbor and friend to Johanna who manages to save the day when the family most needs help.
I’m always amazed and pleased to see the ingenuity of designers when faced with a small stage and a lot of action. The crew at TCL do a good job with what they must work with. In this case, they created the façade of a house that indicated a richness of life that did not exist on the inside. A small kitchen and an appropriate “front” room into which guests were ushered were provided. The small lobby and the center aisle of the theatre were also called into action as other parts of the house and the front yard. As the girls grew up, the younger ones seemed to even inherit the clothing of the older sisters when they moved on.
There is a certain inevitability to the unfolding of this family once the basic personalities are established. It becomes evident how things will progress, the unhappy circle they will either live with or get away from. As an audience member, you root for all of them to find a good place for themselves while knowing that some people are their own worst enemies.
A WOW factor of 8!!