Most likely you've heard about the town of Flint, Michigan. And you've heard about the town's woes: massive unemployment due to the closing of the General Motors plant, and lead and other …
Most likely you've heard about the town of Flint, Michigan. And you've heard about the town's woes: massive unemployment due to the closing of the General Motors plant, and lead and other contaminants in the drinking water.
These issues and others are now the subject of a new play called “Flint,” written by award-winning actor and accomplished playwright Jeff Daniels. The play is currently receiving its East coast premiere at Shadowland Stages.
To call the play dynamic and spellbinding does not do it justice. It's an enthralling and gripping portrait of two couples, one black and one white who have been caught up in the struggles ripping the city apart.
Mitchell (Brandon Rubin) and Eddie (Brendan Burke) live next door to each other. The men and their wives, Olivia (Jammie Patton) and Karen (LeeAnne Hutchison) are best friends. Their tap water is yellow, and it's been two-and-a-half years since the guys lost their jobs at the auto plant. Olivia drives a bus for a local church, and Karen, well let's just say that Karen is unable to return to her previous job. The American dream has never seemed farther away.
Mitchell is determined to get on with his life and has taken an $8 per hour job at Walmart, hoping to be promoted to floor manager from his current position in sporting goods. Eddie, still unemployed, refuses to take any job he feels is beneath his skillset - a huge source of stress between him and Karen.
There's lighthearted banter between the guys as they guzzle Budweisers. Mitchell has this thing about bumper stickers - “who doesn't read bumper stickers?” and the men talk about starting their own company.
But underneath the laughs there's a whiff of a strained relationship. Eddie is bitter and angry at the world, and the more he drinks, the greater his fury.
The audience watches mesmerized as the friendship between Eddie and Mitchell, and indeed the marriage of Eddie and Karen begins to dissolve in the six weeks before Michigan announces a problem with the city's water.
Director James Glossman's skill at crafting stage pictures is on full display here. Many of the play's confrontations have Mitchell, Olivia and Karen on one side of the stage and Eddie on the other. It's visual affirmation of the spousal and friendship divisions. Glossman's directing is brilliant, presenting strong attachments at the outset, but subtly hinting at the oncoming storm. The audience knows it's coming, and you can hear a pin drop in the theatre.
Justin and Christopher Swader's scenic design is just divine. The kitchen, porch and living room of Mitchell and Olivia's house shows off an attractive well-kept home, and yet has just enough shabbiness to illustrate their current financial condition.
Brandon Rubin's performance of Mitchell is everything you'd want in a next-door neighbor and friend. He's got an easy smile, with a winning personality. He's warm and inviting. Just the kind of guy you want on your side. But there's fierce element of protection beneath the veneer and Rubin hides it well until it's needed.
As Olivia, Jammie Patton displays warmth and affection, not only for her husband and baby, but also for her friend Karen. Patton's demonstration of intense love, motherly affection and kindness are an anchor for the goodness that exists in a troubled world.
LeeAnne Hutchison's interpretation of Karen makes you want to weep for her troubles. Her character is long suffering and exhausted from trying to work things out. It's a totally believable portrayal of a wife on the edge that invokes sincere empathy from the audience.
And how nice to see Shadowland's Producing Artistic Director onstage again after an extended hiatus. Beneath the friendship and camaraderie with Mitchell, Brendan Burke's Eddie harbors simmering anger and rage that erupts like a bomb. Because of his acting expertise the audience is witness to the fury bubbling beneath the surface before it explodes in a gripping and riveting climax.
Bravo to Jeff Daniels, James Glossman, and the entire cast and crew of “Flint.” This is engrossing and captivating drama at its very best.
If you go:
What: Flint by Jeff Daniels
Where: Shadowland Stages
When: Through September 29
How to get tickets: Visit shadowlandstages.org or call 845-647-5511.
NOTE: Please know that the names in the review (some of which are unusual) have been checked and are correct. For example, one actress is named Jammie (not Jamie). And another has the last name Hutchison (not Hutchinson).