Theater Review: Fiction by LEAD Productions

It is unclear when this production of Fiction, written by Steven Dietz, officially begins. Perhaps it’s while meandering through the Five Points neighborhood just off Merrimon Ave. Or just as we’re making our way up the steep stone steps of Forsythia Hall. The venue’s chamber door leads into a rustic room with a beautiful vaulted ceiling — it’s a church that has been converted into both event and living space. In this room, two actors converse above a staircase as we take our seats.

The story — staged again on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 11 and 12 — centers on the marriage of two successful authors, Linda and Michael Waterman. In memory play format, we journey with them through a jarring love triangle. Or so it would seem.

Deena Wade, as Linda, is nothing short of phenomenal. She is effortlessly sexy and her performance feels lived in. Early on, we discover Linda is dying of cancer, and Wade’s steady acceptance of the fact garners very real pathos from us. A victim of this unrelenting disease would cheer Wades restraint — it is not all tears and hankies, but a reflective pause at the end of the road. Whereas there are occasional in and outs with the other performers, with Wade there is never a false moment. She’s astonishing to watch.

The intriguing plot device of the play is when the authors, who are unquestionably in love, decide to swap diary collections. This gives Eamon Martin, as Michael, an opportunity to really shine. Martin is alluring and handsome when he speaks to the audience, winning us over like an underdog player — the John Cusack type, with a nice sense of comedy that matches Wade’s dry delivery. Martin is a great actor, especially in moments when he is subtle, reserved and pulled back. Even a malfunctioning desk lamp attached to naked drop cords does not throw him — instead, he makes it part of the scene.

An important supporting character is temptress and muse Abby Drake, played by Valerie Rose. When she walks into the picture, we ponder whether or not her character is an invention of the couple — two lovers in search for the most memorable ending to their story. As Rose slinks down the staircase, we can’t help but recall the image of Barbara Stanwyck’s first arrival in Double Indemnity. It would have been dynamite to see Rose play her part with more femme fatale fire, which had evident possibility upon her showy entrance. Although her performance overall was a more sensible approach, she manages to hold her own.

These wonderful new actors and this production are an extension of NYS3 — The Meisner Acting Conservatory for the Southeast. The musicians Meg Mulhearn, Ross Gentry and Kimathi Moore strike a cord and deserve enormous praise for their ambient and ominous live scoring throughout the show. Richard Handy is an excellent director, making the association between LEAD Productions and the prestigious NYS3 worthwhile. Handy is part of the acting faculty of NYS3, alongside Golden Globe nominee Kelly McGillis of Witness and Top Gun.

Walking away from Fiction, we are never quite sure what is nonfiction and what is make-believe. Without that uncertainty the play would not attach itself to us on the drive home. Although this showing briefly lost traction and necessary suspense in the second act, it was only a minor opening night glitch. Hopefully this compelling production will extend its run at Forsythia Hall in order to reach a wider audience. It is outstanding.

WHAT: Fiction
WHERE: Forsythia Hall, 28 Forsythe St. NYS3.com
WHEN: Thursday and Friday, Feb. 11 and 12, at 7:30 p.m. $20

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About Kai Elijah Hamilton
Kai Elijah Hamilton was born and raised in Western North Carolina. A poet, screenwriter and playwright, he is also a published film and theater critic. Hamilton is a creative individual with a wide range of talents and interests. He is an Award Winning Actor (Tom in "The Glass Menagerie") and Director ("A Raisin In The Sun"). He previously served as Artistic Director at Hendersonville Little Theatre and has a B.A. in theater and film from Western Carolina University. In 2016, Hamilton's play "The Sleepwalker" won a spot in the first annual Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival by NYS3. His play "Blackberry Winter" was a finalist in the elite Strawberry One-Act Festival in NYC winning Best Short Film/Video Diary. Hamilton is also the author of the full-length southern-gothic play "Dry Weather Wind" which has been called "Important. Relevant to the issues in today's time, and beautifully written..."

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