by Beki Pineda

SHORN – Written by Nora Douglass; Directed by Madge Montgomery. Presented by Theater Company of Lafayette (300 East Simpson Street, Lafayette) through August 17. Tickets available at 720-209-2154 or tclstage.org.

For a small theatre to take on a brand new script is an incredible act of bravery. Most are struggling to keep the doors open and must provide entertainment to their fan base that is funny and known. While there are comic moments in SHORN, it would not generally be considered either funny or certainly not known. Yet TCL took it on and did a great job with a meaningful script.

In an unnamed isolated land, a war has been going on in the distance for a long time. So long that it is taken for granted. Getting closer at times with bombs exploding only miles down the road; then moving further away. But rarely interrupting the day to day life of an older woman and the refugee from the war she has opted to care for. A nearly grown man, he keeps her company and helps the other women in the village with chores in return for food, even though he is silent and cannot speak. Lena, the mother figure, describes him as “his muscles are way ahead of his brain.” Into this tranquil existence, another throw-away character falls. A woman, shamed and beaten by the village women for her “disgraceful” behavior, is left at Lena’s doorstep and becomes the third in this small family. As secrets unfold and motives are revealed, the family grows closer together and learns to support one another. Until a final secret turns out to be the straw that breaks the family’s back and the young people must make decisions about their future.

Nora Douglass has written a strong script that tells a compelling story. The three actors who bring this to life for the first time have found both the humor and the pathos in the situations described. The varying allegiances and wavering loyalties throughout the performance are strongly motivated and humanly presented. As the boundaries of the war shift around them, the geography of their relationships alter as well. But the strength of the family proves to be stronger than the outside forces that bombard them. It is nice to think that this would not be a myth in a real life situation and that people would help each other survive in times of need.

The part of Lena is not specifically written with any ethnic characteristics, but in this version was played by the Asian looking Munam Goodwyn to great effect. It placed the story and Lena’s house somewhere in Southeast Asia even though her orphans were accent-less and mid-American looking. Munam brought great empathy and appropriately genuine grief to her part. While her heavy accent made it difficult to understand the dialogue at times, you always knew where her heart and her mind were going. Claire is the orphan girl whose tough demeanor belies a heart of gold and a backbone of steel. Diana Quetti brings Claire to life with gusto and an exuberance that is compelling. August is played by Brandon Phelps who looks younger on stage than he does in real life. As the tennis ball being batted back and forth by these two women, he manages to play both sides and both realities with ease.

The story is set in front of Lena’s house with its rickety chairs and hidden compartments being designed by Maria Aki and painted by Chris Pash. Some very nice work is done by Tom Priestley as the Sound and Light Designer in his portrayal of a distant but ominous war through the effective use of light and sound. He used his talent to create beautiful quiet mood moments on stage for the actors that boosted the story telling. Director Madge Montgomery did something with the scene changes that I wish other director’s would emulate. The scene would finish and the lights would go darker, but not all the way to blackout. The actors would sit in the last scene for a few more seconds, denoting a passage of time. Then, in character, move to the beginning of the next scene. Time had clearly passed but the actors did not hurriedly move around the stage; all movement was done with deliberation and purpose. It allowed the audience to absorb what had just happened and gently follow the actors into the next scene.  ust exactly the right treatment for this piece.

For those of you who have not yet found the Mary Miller Theatre, it is housed in a building from 1892 built and named for the founder of Lafayette. Constructed originally as a church, it has in turn been a hospital and a library until it was fitted out several  years ago as a theatre and became the home of TCL. It is worth the drive and not that far from Boulder to see this new and powerful production. But you’ve only got one weekend left.  Jump on it.

A WOW factor of 8.5!!