By Sarah Carlson, Arts Editor
At 90 years old, Mable Tidings Bigelow (Heather Ketchersid) has much to look back on in her life. She accomplished her goal of swimming the English Channel at a young age, a feat she achieved with both the encouragement and discouragement of others. Her childhood learning to swim in Massachusetts, a short-lived love affair with a mysterious Englishman, David (Jason Kennedy), a rocky marriage with Porter Bigelow (Andrew Young), and various friendships and family relationships have all shaped who she has become, for better or worse.
In Pride’s Crossing, we see Mable transform from a weak yet witty 90-year-old to a buoyant 10-year-old in a matter of seconds. Starting in 1917 and transitioning back and forth from the present (1997) to the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s and ’60s, we see her life broken down into defining moments where difficult decisions had to be made, and the key choice of whether to take a risk or play it safe is paramount for Mable.
Beginning slow but eventually picking up momentum, mostly in the second act, Pride’s Crossing is an interesting look at how our choices form whom we become, but in many ways it is unclear what exactly the playwright, Tina Howe, is aiming for. The concept of looking back on your life decisions is in no way novel; nevertheless, the play provides a worthwhile glance at the life of a strong-willed and often impertinent woman.
At present time, she is preparing for a croquette party on the Fourth of July, similar to ones her family hosted while she grew up. Old friends (the ones still alive) attend along with family.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the play is how each of the actors, outside of Ketchersid, plays several roles regardless of whether the gender matches. Lindsey Speck performs in the roles of Vita Bright, Mable’s caretaker, Phinneas Tidings, her older brother, Kitty Lowell, a lifelong friend, and Pru O’Neil, a house maid she had while growing up-all of whom are incredibly loyal to Mable.
Annika Johansson stars as Maud Tidings, Mable’s mother, who scrutinizes Mable’s every move and refuses to give her any leeway for adventure and swimming. She appears later, though, as Mable’s granddaughter, Julia Renoir, who brings her daughter, Minty (Jessica Patterson), to visit Mable. Their mother-daughter relationship is what Mable had always longed for with her mother but was unable to achieve because of Maud’s lack of confidence in both Mable and in herself.
Kennedy plays the roles of Frazier Tidings, Mabel’s brother who feels left in the shadow of Phinneas; Pinky Wheelock, Wheel’s wife; and her long-lost lover David Bloom. Mable met David when she was in England preparing to swim the channel, fell in love but ultimately decided to marry her betrothed Porter. Bloom was Jewish and outside of her family’s circle by a continent, and Mable lost her nerve and gave up on the affair.
Young plays Mabel’s father Gus Tidings, her husband, Porter Bigelow, a maestro acquaintance from the ’30s, and is hilarious as her old friend, Wheels Wheelock, who comes to the croquette party.
Caleb Todd’s main rolls are Mary O’Neil, her family’s cook, and Chandler Coffin, another lifelong friend and old swimming coach whose unrequited love for Mable fortunately doesn’t disturb their friendship. Patterson appears as Minty and as Emma Bigelow, Mable’s neglected daughter.
With all the character swapping comes hilarious situations when the 20-something actors are playing senior citizens. Ketchersid is amazingly convincing as an old woman in the way she holds and carries her body. Her shoulders tighten, slightly contorted, and her feet point inward when she sits. Young, Todd, Kennedy and Speck are pure comic relief as dazed old-timers attempting to play croquette.
The set design for Pride’s Crossing is one of the most dynamic I’ve seen at an ACU theatre production, largely because of its simplicity. The stage was raised more than a foot to enable a tracking system of pulling in different parts of the set at various times, revealed when the simple white curtains that form the backdrop are raised. Because the time period changes with every scene in each act, the speed at which the sets and costumes must be changed is impressive. At times, characters are even changing on stage, transforming 70 or 80 years in age with the change of a dress.
During certain scenes, the humor seems to hinder the point of the story, and I had to wonder if all of it was intentional. The story flowed fairly well with only a few glitches, a main one coming in the last scene where Mable is preparing to swim the channel. She is with her lover David, and the two recreate the classic From Here to Eternity beach scene quite awkwardly. Mable’s decision to leave Bloom and marry Bigelow is never explained enough. However, the chemistry of the cast makes up for the lack of a terrific script.
Pride’s Crossing is worth noting because of the cast and the lengths they go to to construct so many complex character, not to mention their humorous antics.
Pride’s Crossing tickets for Friday and Saturday night:
Dinner and show 6:45 p.m., $25
Show only: 8 p.m., $12
Tickets can be purchased at Ext. 2787