Nicole Adkins (right) and Lauren Ellis acting out.
I keep waiting for the time to come when Hollins University’s Playwright Lab ceases to drop my jaw. Hasn’t happened yet and judging from last night’s presentation of writer Ben Jolivet’s “Community Garden,” it ain’t happenin’ soon.
“Community Garden” is one of 10 plays in the works that Hollins is presenting this weekend at its 2017 Playwrights Festival at Mill Mountain Theatre’s Trinkle Stage. The last four plays are today at 11 a.m., 2, 4 and 6 p.m.
A good friend of mine calls Jolivet a “genius” and I’m inclined to snuggle up to that suggestion. His “Cold” last year (which has gone on to considerable success nationally) was the first time I was aware of his writing and it knocked me over. “Community Garden,” an examination of warring liberals and their tendency to eat each other’s children in light of the 2016 election, is a brave topic that Ben tackles, leading with his head.
In a room full of liberals–as theater people tend to be–he is simply without mercy, thought the play is often funny (responding to Bernie Sanders being compared to Jesus, the lead character says, “The only thing they have in common is that they’re both 2,000-year-old Jews”).
A group of conservatives, one audience member predicted, would cheer this play. Ben spares no truth in this examination, including that of “white privilege,” which gets a thorough airing. The tone is accusatory, but so strongly fact-based that it is undeniable. He presents the usual give and take on Hillary Clinton’s competence, lies, ties with Wall Street, love of kids and on and on. He shows the pro and anti factions butting heads until blood spurts.
It is a good play that eventually–I suspect–will be a great play. It is slow and slightly puzzling for the first third of what began as a one-person production. Ben added a character, a playwright, to interview the do-gooder liberal woman (who began as a man) in an attempt to bring her story to the stage. Both those moves are inspired and when the kinks are worked out, Ben’s writing will be the star, as it should be.
In this iteration, Hollins picked the accomplished Maura Campbell (who, like Ben, is a Hollins MFA grad) to direct, Nicole Blair Adkins to play the protagonist and Lauren Brooke Ellis to play the playwright. It works beautifully. Adkins is a fine young actress who, in essence, plays about six different parts, seguing from one to another–sometimes changing genders–almost effortlessly. Ellis is the often clueless foil, who is quite effective. This production was script-in-hand because of limited time to rehearse, and Adkins employed her script and the metal stand she used to hold it as important props. It was a nice subtlety, a resourceful piece of theater.
I’m sorry you won’t get a chance to see “Community Garden” until it comes again because there is at least one very bright conservative friend of mine and one dogged Hillary Clinton supporter that I respect that I would love to sit between during a presentation of “Community Garden.” I think both would see a lot of truth–something in short supply these days–in this piece of fiction.