Most people would go to extraordinary lengths for their children. But what would they do for other people’s children?
In “Turn It Into Smoke,” a new play by RF Keefe presented by The Mighty Lincoln Company at the Mount Olivet Episcopal Church in Algiers Point, it’s a simple question at first. Gary (John Neisler) and Lena (Wendy Miklovic) have twins and are about to go on a trip. Lena is making lasagna as they wait for Craig (Garrett Prejean) and Melinda (Kristin Shoffner) for a weekly get-together of dinner and drinking. Gary and Craig are academics in the same university department.
The couples are friends, and Gary and Lena have asked a favor. They want Craig and Melinda to be their children’s guardians in case anything goes wrong on the venture.
It’s just a precaution, they say.
Gary and Lena are older than Craig and Melinda. They’re calm, orderly and thorough. Melinda is pregnant, and she and Craig arrive following a Lamaze class. Craig wants a drink and is quick to get his hands on a martini. He seems ruffled, and the pressures of expecting his first child seem to be getting to him. The martini doesn’t really calm him, so he reaches for another. Conversation ricochets between academic politics and department gossip, travel plans, having a baby and cooking lasagna.
Director Diane Lala takes a traditional approach to the classic musical ‘42nd Street.’
Craig and Melinda snipe at each other under their breath, but Gary and Lena keep refocusing conversation on what they really want: a signed document of guardianship.
Under Mark Routhier’s direction, the cast nimbly handles the conversation, with its constant interruptions and people talking over one another. It’s clear that there’s a lot of tension bubbling under the surface as Craig keeps putting down the pen and contract to refill his glass.
Gary and Lena insist their request is just a formality. Nothing is going to happen, they say, but that just seems to increase the tension. Then there’s a knock on the door and nuns Sister Anne (Mary Pauley) and Sister Constance (Kathryn Miess) enter. The three couples meeting was not part of the plan.
“Turn It Into Smoke” is anything but a parlor drama or domestic tale. Cascading revelations explode the drama into a grand farce, which is at times wickedly funny and unnerving as otherwise mild-mannered people embrace their deeply held convictions.
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Prejean is riveting as the drunk, distraught Craig in full meltdown. Pauley’s Sister Anne is sweet but insistent and takes no prisoners. Constance doesn’t seem like a young woman whose calling is the cloth, and an ill-fitting habit seems to underscore that. Neisler is entertaining as he tries not so much to diffuse the situation as to guide it. A couple of physical confrontations weren’t convincing, although the fury was palpable.
The show is the first production of The Mighty Lincoln Company, formed by Routhier, Neisler, Prejean and other theater artists who live in Algiers Point.
The meeting room at the Mount Olivet Episcopal Church is an improvised but workable space. There’s a kitchen to cook in, and with roughly 25 mismatched chairs, it feels like a living room. (Tickets include a slice of lasagna after the show.)
Keefe’s drama is a battle of convictions, and some righteousness heightens the conflict. The plot twists are numerous, head-spinning and ultimately best suited to a dark comedy. Many of the characters take extreme stances, but it’s a dazzlingly unpredictable show in which people’s comfort zones get turned into war zones.
"Turn it Into Smoke"
7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 1-3
Mt. Olivet Episcopal Church, 530 Pelican Ave
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