What Nurtures Us
You never know where in Connecticut you will find intriguing theater. Of course, there are the well-established venues such as Long Wharf in New Haven and TheaterWorks up in Hartford, to name just two, but how many theatergoers have heard of the Thrown Stone Theatre Company? Nested in the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance on Main Street in Ridgefield, this young company is currently premiering “Milk,” a play by Ross Dunsmore that was first presented at the Traverse Theatre in Scotland in 2016. Essentially presented in a black box format with very few props, this triple slice-of-life drama directed by Jason Peck allows actors to do what they do best: bring characters to vivid life.
The play revolves around three “couples.” First there are two teenagers, Ash (Aidan Meacham), intent on “bulking up” to entice the girls by devouring one chicken per day, and Steph (a mesmerizing Alexandra Perlwitz), a 14-year-old schoolgirl who is, well in heat. Then there’s schoolteacher Danny (Jonathan Winn) and his oh-so pregnant wife Nicole (Alana Arco), consumed by the pending arrival of their child. Finally, there’s Cyril (Cyrus Newitt), a WWII veteran, and his wife May (Melody James), who have fallen on hard times and appear to be living hand-to-mouth in abandoned digs with no gas or electricity.
What Dunsmore has created are three stages of human relationships: the opening moves as two young people, driven by surging hormones, ineptly grope towards each other, the middlegame, when a relationship develops in often surprising ways, and the endgame, in which the conclusion is all but inevitable.
In the theater’s intimate setting it’s easy to be drawn into the quest each character is on in an attempt to define himself or herself in terms of a relationship. Perlwitz creates a young girl desperate to be loved, who taunts and teases yet, at the same time, has self-image problems. Her character’s primary focus is on Meacham’s Ash, who is all but overwhelmed by her aggressiveness, but she also seeks affirmation from her teacher, Danny, and goes to lengths that will have dire consequences.
Arco’s Nicole, defined by her pregnancy, gives birth, only to realize that she has problems nursing her infant son and sees in this a rejection of her value, compounded by the revelation of Danny and Steph’s “relationship.”
The most poignant of the couples is Cyril and May, who evoke memories of some of Dickens’ most vivid “ancient” characters. Clinging to memories of a time when the world seemed to be theirs, they must deal with “checkmate” as best they can, May imagining meals they can no longer provide for themselves while Cyiril, who once rode into Berlin on a tank, now fearing the children and dogs that lurk outside.
The play is episodic, with the couples entering and exiting and often rearranging the two tables and chairs that serve as the set (sometimes, it would seem, to little or no purpose). The scene-setting can seem, at times, a bit tiresome, but given the size and configuration of the stage there was, perhaps, no alternative. The fact remains that once the scenes are set the six actors create memorable, believable characters, all of whom we care about, so much so that when one of them is about to act in a way we, the audience, know will lead to heartache the thought, “Don’t do it,” easily arises.
“Milk” runs through July 30. For tickets or more information go to www.thrownstone.org.