A Mother Attempts to Rescue Her Daughter in Salvage at Theatre 4 in New Haven

By Amy J. Barry

Theatre 4, a non-profit acting company, isn’t grounded in a traditional theater: its original plays are performed in alternative spaces throughout the region. But if the current production of Salvage is any indication, the theater -- founded in 2007 with Branford’s Susan Clark at its helm as executive director -- has its feet firmly planted in professional, polished, thought-provoking performances.


Salvage, directed by Maryna Harrison, is a new play in one act by George Brant, whose plays include Elephant’s Graveyard, winner of the David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award from the Kennedy Center, and the Keen Prize for Literature.


A dialogue-driven, psychological drama, Salvage will keep you on the edge of your seat, despite the lack of action.


The playtakes place in the present, in a suburban basement cluttered with the stuff of the recent past from piles of ‘70s records to a collapsed beanbag chair. Kelly (Mariah Sage) and Roberta, her mother (Janie Tamarkin) are frantically going through boxes, deciding what to take out of the basement before a flood of Biblical proportion hits and wipes everything out.


We learn as the story slowly, teasingly, meticulously unfolds that these prized possessions belonged to Danny, Roberta’s son, Kelly’s older brother, who recently died. We learn that Danny was 40 and had never left home.


Kelly is having a hard time deciding what to rescue and what to leave behind. Roberta urges her to hurry up, time is ticking away.


“It’s not buried treasure, Kelly,” she reminds her. “It’s debris.”


“You Windexed him out of his own room,” Kelly shoots back.


It is through this tightly constructed dialogue that we learn more and more about the two characters so sublimely portrayed by Sage and Tamarkin.


Kelly is mentally unbalanced, unrealistic, trapped in the role of the younger, incapable child, although she’s a grown woman.


Roberta is just as trapped in her anger, a cynical realist because she can’t imagine a way out of her grief, her fearful awareness of what the future holds.


Enter the beautiful Amanda (Rebecka Jones), Danny’s high school sweetheart, under the pretense of offering flowers and condolences. A very successful writer, she hadn’t seen Danny in 20 years. Her best-selling novel is about Danny, yet she insists it’s only loosely based on him. She describes the character as having a “flat line life, which Roberta is convinced is the reason her son died, that the pen is a powerful enough instrument to destroy another life, and she demands that Amanda take responsibility.


On the other hand, Kelly, who romanticizes the past, tells Amanda, “I always thought you’d come back and rescue him. Like Sleeping Beauty.”


Roberta has to make Amanda into a villain, a target for her anger. And yet, she makes a convincing argument that Amanda isn’t what she seems. Roberta is also afraid that Kelly will become completely unglued now that her big brother and savior is gone. Roberta may be unsentimental about saving her son’s possessions but she is fiercely determined to save her daughter.


It turns out that Amanda does have another agenda -- there is something she’s determined to find in the basement and she’s ruthless in pursuing it.


Jones gives a stellar performance as the self-absorbed Amanda -- chillingly composed and at the same time desperate. We anxiously anticipate how far she will go to get what she wants.


Salvage is about the “stuff” of memories and what we attach to them. It is about the family roles we are cast in and trapped in, and the unexpected ways our destinies play out. It is about a mother’s love and loyalty, even if misguided. It is also about hope -- the possibility of moving forward, of one door closing and another opening.


Salvage is a powerful piece of writing and acting -- refreshingly provocative theater right in our backyard.


Performances of Salvage, presented by Theatre 4, continue through May 6 at the Gallery at UpCrown Entertainment, 216 Crown St., New Haven. Running time: approx. 80 minutes. For tickets, call 203-654-7711 or online www.t4ct.org.


This review appeared in Shore Publishing community weekliesand online Zip06.com and theday.com.

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