The Hartleb Beat: Stain reviewed
What doesn't kill you leaves a mark...
Thomas and his father, Arthur, sit on a park bench and discuss Thomas' latest "phase": dating women of color. The two munch on hotdogs and stare out into the urban park without making eye contact through the entire conversation. Arthur lectures Thomas on the gravity of this "phase," but insists this has nothing to do with racism. Thomas nods along and offers a simple "okay" to his dad's winded advice.
Back at his mother, Julia's, house, he repeats some of his father's suggestions. His mother chastises his father, his grandmother scoffs, Thomas says "okay," and dinner is served.
In Tony Glazer's new, original play, Stain, 15-year-old Thomas is the confused and somewhat abandoned product of his parents' divorce. At the heart of the show, produced by the Performing Artists Collective Alliance, is Thomas' mission to discover the reason behind his parents' split three years ago and the stains that his family's secrets left on him. A supporting, albeit controversial, range of issues including rape, drug abuse, and teen parenthood surround the family's life throughout their turbulent time.
The play focuses on the collision of Thomas' family's past, present, and future, as all their stains are revealed, leaving a tangled and complex mess that keeps the audience guessing. Each character's story is layered on top of the others', proving that no matter how hard they may try, their life stories are not exclusively their own. As Thomas' life and mistakes start to mirror those of his parents, they make the hard choices on where and when to intervene, facing both internal and external struggles.
Arthur and Thomas, portrayed by Bradley Ford and Logan Stearns, are the shining stars of the play. Arthur's harsh exterior makes him difficult to embrace and understand. He's the father with useless advice and foul language but also a clear devotion to his son, constantly promising that Thomas is always welcome to live with him and find his old room "just how he left it." Stearns portrays Thomas as an awkward, but frankly average 15-year-old boy caught in the midst of a strange balancing act.
The play moves quickly through disconnected scenes with calm, sad transition music between each one. Though the music is calm, the on-stage emotions are often heated and passionate, with many raw shouting matches between parent and child, divorcees, and child and friend. The show's fast pace reflects the pace of true life – it never slows down for a moment of weakness.
One of the most interesting aspects of the production is the scenery. When Thomas visits his father on Sundays, they go to a park – which his mother finds unsafe. When Thomas is at home with his mother and grandmother, he is sitting at a kitchen table beneath the portraits of Mary and Jesus that flank a black and white photograph of his deceased grandfather. The perfectly neat props in his not-so-neat life end up taking on a role of their own as the play progresses. The secrets come out in the unsafe zone, and the sanctity of his home turns out to be violated.
Ultimately, Stain is a play full of overdone controversies put under a microscope and all thrown into the same family to create one huge, chaotic, and entirely exciting mess. Though Glazer's issues of choice may be cliché, he certainly makes a statement with a new take on a modern family that won't be soon forgotten.
Have a suggestion for something I should check out? Want to share your experience with The Erie Reader? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter @elliehartleb.