World-premiere Splinter and Crack, written by local Jessica Bedford, is Juniper Production’s first full-length production. A company with a penchant for cool spaces (last year’s debut was at Philadelphia Distillery), its current home at the new Hamilton Studios in the revitalizing Spring Arts area is a good match.
Rosemary (Mary Elizabeth Scallen) is a literary theorist, professor, and hoarder. Her grown daughter Andie (Julianna Zinkel) and son-in-law Craig (Alex Hughes) show up unannounced to stage an intervention. Craig is the catalyst, as he does not want his one-year-old daughter to visit Rosemary’s dangerously cluttered house. Andie does not want to deprive her mother of her only granddaughter, but Rosemary is conveniently scared of bridges and won’t travel. Time for confrontation.
The new/old space works well for the premise. The audience walks through a narrow path full of knick-knacks on the way to the seating, which is set up on three sides with mismatched chairs.
Yet, the set itself is rather sparse. I usually appreciate when set designers avoid getting too literal, and the closeness of the audience does give Rosemary’s house a claustrophobic vibe. But when Andie gets angry and gestures to a pathetically small pile of mail, I certainly wasn’t worried about her toddler’s safety.
Sound designer Chris Sannino punctuates moments with the sounds of Rosemary’s memories – mostly whispers and laughing children, which at first made me believe that Rosemary hears voices. Maybe that is the subtext, as the neighbors say she’s been talking to herself, and Andie is concerned when Rosemary skips a university event. The production brings up the possibility that Rosemary’s mental health problems are bigger than collecting newspapers, but it’s never explored. Skipping work meetings doesn’t seem off-brand for a jaded tenured professor. Perhaps Andie and Craig are overreacting.
Well, I’d say Craig is, at least. We find out that he hired a TV therapist, Rick Reed, to help with the confrontation. Akeem Davis rolls in with the smarm and confidence of Dr. Phil, but with enough tenderness that we do really want Rick to connect with Rosemary. She sees through his B.S. The two have a good chemistry, and they engage in a battle of wits that’s fun and reveals more about Rosemary’s character and traumas. Yet, the banter gets repetitive past the point of being funny or poignant.
But the core relationship here is between mother and daughter. Zinkel and Scallon create a relationship that feels truly lived-in, and director Harriet Power’s final tableau is lovely. Despite some issues, the production’s portrayal of the adult child-parent relationship, with all its power dynamics and complexities, rings true.
Splinter and Crack runs through May 13th at Hamilton Studios, 1015 Hamilton St. For tickets: www.juniper.agency
Review by Erin McCourt