Look beyond the abominable title. ACT’s 35Below is currently presenting the North Carolina premiere of Hilary Illick and Jennifer Krier’s Eve-Olution. But the writing is better than one might think.
Eve-olution is the story of two working mothers, Alison (Susan Stanley) and Liza (Wendi Loomis). The women tell their stories of balancing career, relationship, and child-rearing via alternating monologues on separate halves of the stage, centered around their respective beds. A lot of the action happens to take place in the bedroom (not like that – okay, sometimes like that). The minimal set (designed by Jillian Summers) works well to facilitate both a basic visual for the backdrop of their vignettes, and a hiding place for the various props that enhance their speaking.
The script is, perhaps, a little chick flick-y, but I appreciated its candor, humor and vulnerability. The writing touches the difficulties of career women starting families, within the frame of Alison’s and Liza’s perceptions of their own mothers, and the influences of their mothers on their own child-rearing. (This latter point resonated with me, despite my lack of children … well, other than the 75 teenagers whose minds I attempt to mold during the week.)
The arc of the play takes a little while to firmly differentiate between the struggles of the two characters. At first they are both just noticing that their careers and relationships are suffering—it felt a little niche and a little unnecessary to have two separate characters with the same problem. The characters do develop more distinctly, as Alison copes with the idea of abandoning her job altogether, and with the envy of her model-parent-type friends. Liza learns to juggle four small children and a laptop. Liza, with one notable exception, tends to have more cute and funny problems, while Alison’s obstacles move a bit more towards pathos, though in a real rather than melodramatic way.
Both actors deliver strong, convincing performances. Loomis lends the appropriate comic, exuberant, and, at times harried air to make Liza a very likeable though flawed persona. Stanley is exceptional, particularly in bringing out the deep insecurity and sensuality of her character. Direction by Anne Slatton is virtually invisible, in the way good direction should be. The one questionable choice—which may have been scriptural in nature—was bringing the two women together at center stage at the beginning and end of the play. Their characters aren’t written to be friends, and the lines in these scenes are still, essentially, monologues, yet they interact with each other as though they are acquainted. The effect is rather stilted and odd.
Eve-olution is a by turns honest, painful, charming and humorous take on modern motherhood. I expect mothers will particularly relate and enjoy, but offspring are not a prerequisite to being entertained by this play.