FIREFLIES AT THE LONG WHARF
Written by Matthew Barber Directed by Gordon Edlestein
FIREFLIES, which had its world premiere at the Long Wharf in October, takes place in an organized and tidy kitchen in Texas, owned by an organized and tidy retired school teacher named Eleanor, played by Jane Alexander. Eleanor is visited regularly by her nosy, noisy, neighbor, Grace, played deliciously by Judith Ivey.
When Abel, played by Denis Arndt, parks his trailer nearby, there is plenty for Grace to talk about, and plenty for Eleanor to think about. Abel is a drifter, who hopes pick up some jobs as a handyman. The order of Eleanor’s world is about to change.
Alexander Dodge’s set of Eleanor’s kitchen is realistic and full of details that help to tell Eleanor’s story and also shows her reluctance to change. In the first act, we see a copy of the Andrew Wyeth painting, Christina’s World which hangs over the backdoor. When we return for Act II, the roof of the kitchen has been removed (as well as the painting) and we see a beautifully lit set, under an early evening sky. Her kitchen has not changed, but her perception of her world, has.
Jane Alexander and Judity Ivey are two of our most enduring and admired stage actors, and seeing them in the intimacy of the Long Wharf is a treat. Judity Ivey is so charmingly funny, that she gets laughs just when her face pops up in the window of the backdoor. Jane Alexander is so good, she doesn’t need lines to tell us who Eleanor is. Every time she moves or listens to Abel or responds to Grace, we know a little more about her life and her experiences.
Denis Arndt gives a fine performance, although, I found myself wishing he would speak up a bit more to match the volume of the other actors. Christopher Michael McFarland plays the local police officer who once had Eleanor as a teacher. Mr. McFarland, who has appeared in New Haven at Yale Rep many times, is delightful as the officer who tries to determine if Abel robbed Eleanor, or not.
I was nervous about how the actors would take their bow. I was delighted to see that Gordon Edelstein had the good sense to have all three of the main actors come out together and bow together. There were no single bows, which sometimes makes for awkwardness when the applause decibel levels go up for one and down for another. Seeing these actors in the small, intimate setting of the Long Wharf is an acting lesson that every aspiring performer should be able to experience. It is even a good thing for old, retired actors to get a good solid kick in the pants from some really fine work. At least it was for THIS old actor.