Grief has become a popular theme in media. We’ve all seen the story of a family getting together after the death of one of its members, and every plot point along the way has quickly become cliché. Therefore, its with some trepidation that I came into “Storm Still”, the latest production from the Vortex Rep, the story of three sisters coming together after the death of their father, though the fact that these sisters were named Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia was undeniably intriguing. The play quickly put any fears to rest, however, as the play presents us with a naturalistic, raw look at life post-trauma, with all the familiar wound-picking, dib-calling, and remembrance of things past that so many of us know so well. That the play also contains within it a shortened version of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is only icing on the cake, even as the events of the play seem to coincide with the sisters’ own lives with a unique clarity.
“Storm Still” takes complex emotions and, with the help of one of the bard’s most famous tales, helps to clarify them and work through them. Watching the play, we feel we’ve been through own catharsis in the process. The process of mourning someone who was cruel to us is an absurdly difficult exercise, as anger, sadness, regret, and spite all dance in tandem, and its a credit to all of the actors in the piece that they’re able to take on this emotional minefield in a true and earnest way. Writer Gabrielle Reisman and director Rudy Ramirez also deserve accolades for sculpting such a fervent portrayal of grief, and shifting it all through the lens of King Lear.
There’s a smooth naturalism to “Storm Still” that’s refreshing to see, especially in something so tightly linked to a Shakespeare adaptation, and much of this freshness stems from the trio of performances at its core. In particular, Andreá Smith gives a very grounded and believable performance as the eldest sister Goneril, portraying a woman who has gone through years of abuse and struggle, and who wears those years on her sleeve. There’s an obvious love between her and her sisters, but it welded tightly within a shell of spite and sorrow, towards a sister who ran off at the first sign of danger, who never went through the pain she had to experience. Jennifer Coy Jennings’ middle sister Regan has been touched by the past traumas, in her own unique way, shutting off the outside world and becoming hardened. The way Jennings plays the cool but closed off Regan is in turns humorous and crushing, as she seems more stable than her sisters, but at the same time tougher, and rougher. The interactions between the three sisters are electric, especially in the play’s later stages, as the differences between the three begin to take form and create an atmosphere that feels all too relatable.
In recent months, I have noticed that some of the most talented actors in town are those who study in clowning and mime, and Amelia Turner shows us the exact reason why here. This training, as well as her own raw talent, has brought out all the expressiveness and physicality that truly makes a performance such as that of the youngest daughter Cordelia explode, especially here, as performers are constantly taking on other guises. With a certain way she sets her eyes, or turns her mouth, or a method in which she stoops or holds a prop, she becomes another person, who we could see even without the colorful costumes, thoughtfully chosen by Indigo Rael. The performance is more than just expressive motion, however, as Turner seems deeply in touch with her feelings, creating some of the most powerful moments in the play.
A sudden loss is, by its very nature, a chaotic event. Like a tsunami crashing upon land, it spreads and destroys, its digs up things long thought buried. “Storm Still” is very adept at showcasing this, as we see a family hanging tightly to loose strands tempting to fall apart at any moment. By throwing this thrown the prism of King Lear, it also changes in some small way the way we see the bard’s original tale, helping to show us different sides to Goneril and Regan, and in some way empathize with them. It’s a remarkable achievement, and a powerful night of theatre. Don’t miss it.
“Storm Still” is playing through September 24th at The Vortex’s outdoor stage. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit Vortex Rep’s site at vortexrep.org.
Photo courtesy of Errich Petersen