The thing about plays with small casts is that there’s no room for weak links. Each character must be real, every single moment of the production. Shut those characters in an isolated cabin and force them to discuss life’s most awkward topics, and you’ve got a few roles to challenge any actress.
The entire story takes place in a cabin out in the woods of Georgie – in a county, we later learn, that isn’t exactly progressive when it comes to issues like race and religion. Five women and a troop of girls (offstage throughout the play) are on a weekend camping trip planned down to the last excruciating detail by Ally, a neurotic former-lawyer-turned-stay-at-home-mom played beautifully by Casi Wilkerson. Ally frets, paces, hands out handmade neckerchiefs and tries to stick with her itinerary despite one mom’s tardiness.
Tension that has been lightly bubbling under the surface soon boils over when Deidre, a successful surgeon played with raw emotion by Faith Russell, arrives late. Ally’s irritation at her apparent lack of consideration is nothing compared to Deidre’s fury when she takes a look at the itinerary and realizes she and Nicole – the only other black mother on the trip, played by Karen Ann Daniels – are in the kitchen the entire weekend.
It’s not long before the race card is played. The other characters are just as squeamish as the audience, but Shaffer does an excellent job diffusing the tension with great humor, particularly with the character of Jamie, a Jewish woman with a few hilarious one-liners delivered flawlessly by Amy Love. A storm hits, the power is out, and these women are forced to do what we should all do when these difficult issues come up; talk it out, rather than run away.
There are no two-dimensional characters here, although in the beginning you might think you spot a few stereotypes. Yes, Deidre is angry – but despite her success and wealth, she has a damn good reason for feeling sensitive. Nicole is the peacemaker – until she’s had all she can take, and forces the issue out in the open so bluntly the audience cringes right along with the characters. Sue, a recently divorced mom and Ally’s fellow den mother, makes light of her failed marriage and its lasting effect on her child, but Nikki Visel does a magnificent job of letting the cracks show through until you have to fight the urge to step onto the stage and give the woman a hug. And Ally – so much more than your typical controlling mother, she’s just as sympathetic a character as the others.
While this play stars five women, it is not a play for women only. The issues of parenthood, race and religion that are addressed, however uncomfortably, apply to everyone, and the men in the audience the night I attended laughed just as hard as the women at the many humorous moments.
And it stays with you afterward. It’s the kind of play you want to discuss the moment you walk out the door, because you recognize parts of yourself in these women. It encourages an honest, even harsh look at things we don’t want to look at, but should. It asks us to find our own answer to the question Shaffer asked herself when she sat down to write the play: “What is more powerful, the shared experience of motherhood or the divisiveness of racism?”
Brownie Points runs through June 18th. See the Taproot Theatre website for ticket information.