As far as Williamston Theatre’s productions this season would indicate, 2023 seems to be the year of the woman. Its selections have included the coming-of-age story “Wild Horses” and “Mrs. Harrison,” a powerful depiction of two women battling over the right to tell the story of a deceased woman of color. The company makes it a trifecta with its current production, the all-woman show “Alabaster.”
Playwright Audrey Cefaly has crafted an intense play that’s balanced with a fair amount of necessary humor. Alice (Kristina Riegle) is a famous photographer who’s embarked on a new project: capturing stories and images of women who have endured unspeakable tragedies. She’s arrived in Alabaster, Alabama, to interview June (Katherine Banks), who was the lone survivor after a tornado destroyed her family’s farm.
While Alabaster is the name of June’s hometown, it also reflects some significant symbolism. A common medium for sculptors, alabaster is soft and easily worked into intricate pieces with delicate detail. To the untrained eye, alabaster can be mistaken for marble, a much harder substance.
At first, June comes across as hardened by her past. After meeting many women who have persisted through horrible circumstances, though, Alice recognizes the softness hidden behind June’s tough façade.
June is not the only damaged soul, and she challenges Alice to face her own flaws. June and Alice poke, prod and push each other, the power dynamic fascinatingly fluid. The story is ultimately about women supporting each other through critical moments of personal growth, and watching Alice and June tenuously build trust is quite compelling.
Cefaly employs aspects of magical realism in the form of mother-and-daughter goats Bib (Gloria Vivalda) and Weezy (Hallie Bee Bard). The elderly Bib, literally on her last legs, represents the heart and soul of the farm. Weezy, on the other hand, represents something else. Is she June’s spirit animal? Guardian angel? The devil on her shoulder? More than a comedic foil, although she does serve in that capacity, Weezy is worldly and wise but also weary. Perhaps she’s a form of a scapegoat, having taken on all of the pain associated with the farm’s tragedy.
Whatever Weezy represents, she’s complex, and Bard is outstanding in her portrayal. Weezy has to be tough, funny and tender, not only challenging June but also grounding her. Although June and Alice must both relive their tragedies in front of the audience, it’s Weezy who experiences the most visceral loss, and Bard drives that loss home.
As always, Williamston Theatre’s production values are worth the price of admission alone. Monika Essen’s circular barnwood centerpiece is mesmerizing, and Michelle Raymond’s props and set dressing create a cozy hovel experience. Lighting designer Shannon T. Schweitzer and sound designer Julia Garlotte have outdone themselves by creating the most intense thunderstorm experiences one is likely to have in an intimate theater space.
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