Friday, April 13, 2012

Off Broadway: A Slow Air

Originally produced in Scotland last year by Tron Theatre Company in Glasgow and subsequently at the Traverse Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, A Slow Air, written and directed by David Harrower, is now receiving its US premiere as part of Scotland Week at 59E59 Theaters.  Structured as a series of alternating monologues directed not at one another but at the audience by Athol (Lewis Howden) and his younger sister Morna (Susan Vidler), the play might have been expected to lack the theatrical force necessary to succeed.  But that turns out not to have been the case at all.  Harrower’s writing and direction are so crisp and Howden’s and Vidler’s performances so stellar that the play proves engaging from beginning to end.

When Athol, a kindly, middle-aged, hard-working owner of a floor tiling company, and his wife Evelyn, first moved from Edinburgh to Houston (a small town near the Glasgow airport), he wasn’t sure he’d made the right decision.  His neighbors seemed aloof, unfriendly, even stuck-up, but that all changed after a terrorist attack at the airport and the disclosure that the terrorists had actually lived in Houston brought the townspeople together.  Now Athol is settled in, he looks out for his neighbors and they for him – but his business remains a struggle and his frustration is palpable.

Meanwhile, Morna, a single mother whose cartoon-drawing son, Joshua, is about to turn twenty-one, continues to work as a housecleaner in the Dairy area of Edinburgh. Morna, as it turns out, ran away from home at seventeen and she and Athol have not spoken to one another in fourteen years.  She is angry, belligerent, hard-drinking and slutty, and exhibits an unearned sense of entitlement.  To be sure, she's had a tough life but she doesn't seem to see how2 any of that might have been of her own doing.

When Morna’s racist son, Joshua, arrives unexpectedly at Athol’s home, he sets in motion a series of events that lead to our discovering the reasons behind Morna’s having left home, learning the causes of the siblings’ estrangement, understanding the sense of futility in their lives – and recognizing in these two superbly drawn characters the universality of familial misunderstanding and the toll it takes on human lives.

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