Feb. 10 2016 11:41 AM

Williamston Theatre takes on death and grief in latest production

Death can be challenging to process. People may lock away their emotions rather than deal with them. In Williamston Theatre’s latest production, “Too Much, Too Much, Too Many,” one character literally locks herself in her room. This is just one example of the heavy-handed symbolism employed throughout the production. Fortunately for the audience, subtle performances from the cast imbue the play with a strong emotional core.

Since her husband’s death over six months ago, Rose (Brenda Lane) has locked herself in her bedroom with enough books to wait out the apocalypse. Rose’s daughter and caretaker, Emma (Emily Sutton-Smith), recites the description of his death through the door on a daily basis.

“They pulled him out real slow,” she says — ritually, like she’s trying a password she knows won’t open the bedroom door. “He had seaweed in his hair. His shirt was tucked in. Belt was still tight. His face was serene.”

When Pastor Hidge (Aaron T. Moore) stops by to council Rose and Emma, he tries to pull the co-dependent duo out of their emotional cocoons — but he has his own agenda.

As Rose, Lane is a trim, brassy sparkplug who sees right through people — even when a door blocks her view. She shares recipes through the door with Emma but withholds a single ingredient, as if to keep her daughter from leaving.

Emma’s plight, a daughter abandoned by her siblings but morally obligated to care for her mother, is sad and all too familiar. Sutton-Smith is perfect as a woman stuck in long-term crisis mode, seething with pain. Her strongest moments come near the end of the play when she finally unleashes that pain and frustration like a Molotov cocktail of emotion on her mother and Hidge.

As one recipient of that eventual verbal firestorm, Moore infuses Pastor Hidge with quiet calm and control. Built like a former football player, Moore physically dominates the stage, yet somehow keeps Hidge from feeling too intimidating. Sadly, Hidge’s plot-twist character arc distracts from the show’s real focus.

Finally, appearing occasionally in flashbacks as Emma’s father, James (David Daoust) is the embodiment of a warm and loving father and husband. In his few scenes, Daoust brings the right blend of mirth and charm that counters the grief of Rose and Emma.

While grief is the primary theme of Meghan Kennedy’s script, it’s undercut by the strange details of James’ ailment. It’s implied that dementia or Alzheimer’s disease led to James’ death, but Kennedy never delves enough into the specifics of the disease beyond forgetfulness.

The best technical element is the lighting design by Dana White. During the frequent scene transitions, the stage is blanketed in blue light that slowly transforms into a full rainbow palatte. Jason Painter-Price’s sound design is poignant and often unnerving, especially during those same transitions.

Death and grief are challenging subjects to discuss, even in theatrical form, and “Too Much, Too Much, Too Many” makes a worthy attempt. But the rocky script may leave audiences more often scratching their heads rather than wiping away years.

“Too Much, Too Much, Too Many”

Williamston Theatre Through Feb. 28 8 p.m. Thursdays- Saturdays 3 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays $23 Thursdays/$28 Friday- Saturday evenings/$25 matinees/$10 students/$2 discount for seniors and military Williamston Theatre 122 S. Putnam St., Williamston (517) 655-7469, williamstontheatre.com

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