Theater review: ‘Talking With…’ by Attic Salt Theatre

CONVERSATION PIECE: Attic Salt Theatre presents 'Talking With...,' an exploration into the lives of 11 different women, including a character played Devyn Villarreal, pictured. Photo courtesy of Attic Salt Theatre Company

Attic Salt Theatre Company’s newest production focuses on strong, unique and diverse women. It is so spot on in its ruminations that one might assume that this is a brand-new play. Actually, Talking With … by Jane Martin originated in 1982 and won awards and praise for the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville. The show runs through Saturday, Aug. 11, at The Magnetic Theatre.

Director Marci Bernstein takes the audience on 11 unrelated journeys in monologues by a who’s who of local talent. Each scene is its own story, and each actress holds the stage alone for those scenes.

Two monologues place actresses within theater settings. Amanda Hunt opens the show with a glimpse backstage as an actor prepares to perform, candidly chatting with the audience about her passions, insecurities and aspirations. Carin Metzger’s character comes along later, as a frenetic actor nervously auditioning. Metzger is one of several standouts, with her flights-of-fancy character and inspired manic performance.

Mandy Bean, in a wig and goggles for most of her performance, delivers a funny yet heartbreaking performance as a frustrated housewife who escapes mentally — and in her wardrobe — to the world of Oz. Nina Troy is a rodeo rider who is unhappy with the way her industry is becoming too corporate. Candice Burchill is a star baton twirler. Lynda Schuler extols the miracle of McDonald’s restaurants while sipping laconically on a supersize soda. Christy Montesdeoca ends the show as a woman who has covered herself in tattoos that represent her awakening and experiences. At every turn, the characters go in unpredictable directions.

Devyn Villarreal wraps up the first act with an emotionally moving story of her dying mother. She captivates with her words and emotions alone, never rising from the chair where she sits. She drops tiny glass marbles to the floor representing the last days of her mother’s life. Act two opens with Jane Hallstrom weaving through a stage filled with lamps. She philosophizes about warmth and the absences of warmth.

Chelsey Mirheli plays a woman who may believe she is possessed by demons and is about to give birth to one. As she labors, she goes from rage to love and every other emotion in the spectrum, delivering a delicate dance of a performance. Possessed in other ways, the sweetly smooth Hallee Hirsh plays a devotee of snake handling religious fanatics. She tantalizes the audience with the promise that she has a dangerous water moccasin within the cross-emblazoned box beside her.

This it not a typical play, but it is a compelling character study with a clear focus on the many facets of femininity. It is unflinchingly unapologetic in how it presents the women within their own lives and worlds. Some of the pieces do feel dated, but overall, the production proves compelling enough to overlook the clunkiness of a couple of the pieces. Of all the monologues, only the McDonald’s piece feels inadequately written in comparison to the rest, though it still gets a lot of laughs. This show sets an overall high mark thanks to a dynamic cast and director.

WHAT: Talking With … by Attic Salt Theatre
WHERE: The Magnetic Theatre, 375 Depot St., themagnetictheatre.org
WHEN: Through Saturday, Aug. 11. Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. $20

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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