If you ask me…
-    Tom Holehan

Theatre 4 Presents World Premiere of “Salvage”

Theatre 4, New Haven’s plucky young theatre company which performs on-the-road “site specific” productions, can currently be found on the second floor of Crown Street’s handsome Gallery at UpCrown Entertainment building with a world premiere presentation, “Salvage”. The play, a modern retelling of the Henry James classic “The Aspern Papers,” is by George Brant and is an interesting effort, if not still a work in progress.


Set in a cluttered basement in small town suburbia, “Salvage” finds mother Roberta (a fine Janie Tamarkin) and her childlike, adult daughter Kelly (Mariah Sage) going through boxes owned by the now-deceased Danny, son and brother to the women. There is a storm brewing which will result in a flooded basement so Roberta is quickly going through boxes to see if anything is worth salvaging. Kelly, however, had a strong fixation on her brother and is finding it harder to let go as she caresses his album collection and argues with Roberta on the value of saving all his belongings.


As must happen in melodramas of this type, a catalyst arrives in the form of Amanda (Rebecka Jones), Danny’s former lover and now a successful author whose debut novel was based on their relationship. Roberta holds Amanda responsible for her son’s death and is none too pleased to see her. Kelly, though, worships Amanda, idealizing her relationship with Danny and feeling like a kindred spirit. When the reasons for Amanda’s arrival become clear, the stage is set for confrontation.


“Salvage” has a strong trio of women at its center. Ms. Tamarkin, in particular, is a wonderfully fierce mother lion unafraid to confront Amanda at any cost. The years of pain are etched across her face as she unpacks her dead son’s boxes yet she never sentimentalizes what could have been a syrupy role. As Amanda, Ms. Jones brings a cosmopolitan air to the part that seems absolutely right and her manipulation of Kelly’s feelings is both realistic and frightening. Mariah Sage, in the most difficult role, has the tricky task of making understandable a character that, on the surface, can be seen as rather creepy. Given the intimate nature of the space, the performances are sometimes too big for the room, but the women are all compelling actors in a production that has been well paced by director Maryna Harrison.


What doesn’t really work is the modern-day sensibility forced on a drama that was originally set in 1888. Without giving away too many of the play’s surprises, the mother’s actions near the end of “Salvage” just don’t ring true. The drama also relies on contrivances that send people conveniently out of the room just long enough so that specific actions can occur or secrets revealed. And on more than one occasion Roberta suggests that Danny’s belongings should just be left as is, taken by the flooded basement.  But wouldn’t a clean-up still be necessary? Wouldn’t it be even worse to clean up wet, waterlogged boxes instead of getting rid of them while they were dry?


The play may still need revisions, but in the meantime this well-acted, 80-minute drama does keep you involved and guessing. Daniel Nischan’s finely detailed basement setting is praiseworthy as is Christopher Hoyt’s simple lighting and Darlene Richardson’s effective sound design. All said, the opportunity to see new work by a young company that keeps growing and taking chances is always worth the effort.


“Salvage” continues at The Gallery at UpCrown Entertainment, 216 Crown Street in New Haven through May 6.  For further information or ticket reservations call 203.654.7711 or visit: www.t4ct.org.


Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.  His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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