Firebox Theatre Company announced itself with the production of two one-act plays at The Cotton Company in Wake Forest. Their debut suggests this group not only feels the pulse of our lives since navigating a pandemic but understands the power of emotional subtlety.
The evening began with Susan Glaspell’s 1916 play, Trifles, loosely based on a murder case she had covered as a reporter for the Des Moines Daily News. An Iowa farmhouse in 1910 is the setting where a Sheriff has brought the County Attorney to investigate a motive in the death of John Wright, having recently arrested his wife. But these men miss the details concerning the couple’s life, just like they dismiss the concerns of women in general. And it is the women who carry the weight of this play.
Cassie Ford as Mrs. Peters and Cora Hemphill as Mrs. Hale deliver exceptionally resonant performances as they piece together what has happened. Both reflect their growing awareness in unspoken glances that convey their burgeoning realization of how certain small hurts eventually beget larger consequences. It is a masterful example of understatement.
The second play, Hello, Out There by William Saroyan, takes place in a small-town Texas jail cell in 1941. Hayden Tyler offered a particularly impressive portrait of Young Man who has been accused of rape, and unfortunately, has no illusions about his fate. As a gambler, he knows his luck has run out. Longing for companionship, he strikes up a conversation with Girl who cooks for the prisoners.
At first, he merely seems to be charming her for his own ends, but every so softly, as he plants dreams for her, a real tenderness emerges. Lauren Ragsdale responds tentatively, gingerly, until real chemistry generates, and they completely connect through their shared loneliness. The outcome feels as inevitable as that of Romeo and Juliet but somehow seems more tragic. Tyler’s sublime performance elevated this exquisite script.
Under the careful direction of Tim Artz, these performers rose to the challenge of skillfully delineating their characters in a brief period of time. A thrust stage placed the audience close to the action, and the uncluttered set design by Will Holden and John Riddle effectively evoked the particular settings as well as kept the focus on the actors.
If these are the type of stories Firebox intends to share with the community, then we are in for some future moving experiences that reflect our collective emotions.
For more information about Firebox Theatre visit https://www.fireboxtheatre.com/.