Director Keith Garrson should always have a place to present plays.After his departure from Arts Garage after a season and a half, he revived his Primal Forces, performing last season in Fort Lauderdale at Andrews Living Arts and Empire Stage.
Now his Primal Forces is at Empire Stage where it is presenting Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor's "Communion," about a recovering alcoholic, the therapist she leans on, and a Born-Again Christian daughter who discovers that she wants to know more about her mother, but decides on the exploration too late.
Empire Stage is the perfect setting for "Communion," devoting an intimacy to the personal drama that puts the audience in the midst of the conflict. Garsson's directing makes the most of it. The characters, at different points in the play, deliver personal monologues, written with such vulnerability by MacIvor, and played with honesty by the three actresses, who don't shy away from wearing their hearts on their sleeves.
Kim Ostrenko is Leda, a woman on the verge of perhaps a nervous breakdown. She's staring down the barrel of death as she now knows the news that she doesn't have too much longer to live. Jacqueline Laggy plays her therapist, Carolyn, whose years of being in practice have her delivering almost textbook advice. She's also in a relationship with a woman, but MacIvor treats it like any other relationship. And, smartly serves as a wellspout for her holier than Thou daughter, Ann, Leda's daughter, played by Jenna Wyatt, to preach. She spouts Bible verses, and who was once jailed for burning down an abortion clinic, and whose only regret was that there weren't any people in it at the time.
Ostrenko is the powerhouse in this piece. Her Leda is broken, and in need of repair, as she begs her therapist to fix her. On the opposite end of Leda's heart-wide open and spilling-out is Leggy's Carolyn, who is wrapped so tight it seems like nothing could unravel her. That is until we find out that there is personal turmoil brewing in her, too. I only wished that when Carolyn was meant to let her guard down that Leggy would have allowed it – she kept the character perhaps too buttoned up until the very end.
The gem of a find here is Wyatt, who has worked with the Shakespeare Troupe of South Florida, but I've yet to see her on any local stage. She's the perfect Ann, who surprises her mother by revealing a number of life-changing events. Wyatt has impeccable timing, and is worthy of the collective gaspsshe elicits from the audience at a few of her character's revelations.
The set by Jodi Dellaventura and Natalie Tavares, the therapist's office, decorated with lucite backed chairs, gives the room a less than warm feel, and fits so well with Carolyn's icy personality. Then there's the just as non-descript hotel room. Good choices since the set only serves as support in this character-driven play and therefore shouldn't (and doesn't) steal focus. Alberto Arroyo's costumes, especially Ann's dowdy attire, fit the bill just right, and the warm lighting by Nate Sykes exudes motherly comfort. David Hart's sound design has some cool, female tracks to set and capture the mood.
Garsson likes to choose edgy plays that can evoke conversation, and he doesn't fall short here. This is a play that will reverberate for a few days after you leave the theater. It's one of those thought pieces that makes you question life, death, and the meaning of it all.
"Communion" plays 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 5 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 11 at Empire Stage, 1140 North Flagler Drive, Fort Lauderdale, www.primalforces.com; $30.