Fireflies Lights Up the Stage at Curtain Call Theatre

Curtain Call Theatre has made something of a mission this season out of presenting a season of mostly regional play premieres. It is a noble effort for a professional company, much less a community theater and kudos should be given to Founder and Artistic Producer Carol Max for such an exercise. It allows its audience and the Region in general, exposure to some not often produced productions and exposing us to a greater vision of theater. The newest production to set up home is Donja R. Love’s Fireflies, a two-person production set in the Jim Crow South in September 1963 against a backdrop of a segregated America beginning to come to grips with itself. 

Photo by Angelique Powell

The story begins with the Rev. Charles Emmanuel Grace just returning home after preaching at the funeral of the four young girls killed in the bombing of a church in Birmingham Alabama. Does anyone see Martin Luther King, Jr. here? The playwright has clearly made Charles, Martin, and his wife, Olivia, Coretta. Mr. Love’s focus is not on the charismatic Charles, rather on the conflicted Olivia. Olivia is pregnant with the couple’s first child, a child she does not want to bring into the world. She constantly tries to bargain with God to take the child rather than have he/she grow up in a world where murdered colored children are flying home to be with God. The flying is seen literally and metaphorically by the hundreds of fireflies she sees swirling around her. Inside her head, she constantly hears bombs going off and sees fire. Mrs. Grace is burdened with mental illness of a sort, today it may be explained as PTSD.

Add to that, The FBI has sent her a package of a surveillance tape recording and a tape machine to play it on that proves what she has feared all along, her husband is unfaithful. 

Photo by Michael Lake

The problem with Mr. Loves production is not that it’s thought-provoking, it is, not that we aren’t moved by the lives these people are living and the times they are living in, we are. Rather we are totally overwhelmed by the heavy-handedness with which he has loaded the dialogue with imagery, plot revels, emotional twists, and turns. You barely have a moment to catch your breath from one revelation before another is dropped into your laps.

Director Chris Foster has done as much as he can with the script. He lets his actors breathe whenever possible, pause in order for the audience and the characters to attempt to process all of the emotional baggage being thrust at them. 

Photo by Angelique Powell

Michael Lake as Charles is a physically large imposing man which adds to his command of the stage. No stranger to the Curtain Call stage, he successfully portrays the love Charles has for Olivia, his concern for her well-being, and his commitment to the “movement” he so zealously believes in. Interestingly though, he rarely sees the flaws in his own character and Lake plays that well also.

Angelique Powell’s Olivia runs the show here in so many ways. She is always with a pencil in hand constantly writing… letters to God, to her friend Ruby and perhaps as importantly the brains behind the operation, writing Charles’ stirring moving speeches to galvanize a world. Unlike Charles, Olivia is all to aware of her flaws, to her detriment. Powell’s portrayal is exemplary; from the subtle quivering of her lips to the tears rolling down her face, she delivers a tour de force performance. 

Photo by Angelique Powell

Frank Oliva’s set design and Lily Fossner’s lighting design put the entire production into a striking box to present to the audience. 

Curtain Call’s production of Fireflies is certainly a home run of a production even though the play itself may at best be an only double hit. The 90-minute show is worth the time, just be ready to sift through some heavy baggage. 

Fireflies runs Thursday through Sunday, February 6. Tickets are $30.

Curtain Call adheres to all COVID policy including requiring proof of vaccination.For more information go to www.curtaincalltheatre.com  or call 518-877-7529.

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