Sunday, February 23, 2014

"The Unlikely Ascent of Sybil Stevens" - Thrust into the court of public opinion

By Byrne Harrison

You lead a normal, quiet life.  A job.  Friends and family.  The same thing as most everyone else.

But imagine if society suddenly turned its spotlight on you.  Everyone wanting… needing… deserving to know every detail of your life.  What if you didn't want that?  What if you didn't want everyone to steal pieces of your life to fulfill their own agendas?  What if you had no choice in the matter?

Sybil Stevens (Jennifer Gordon Thomas) was content.  Being a flight attendant gave her a chance to see the world and enough money to care for her nephew.  Plus, she loved it.  She had her quiet life, her comfortable apartment and her beloved Cubs.

Then came the crash.

After a mid-air explosion ripped her flight in half and nearly killed her, Sybil, the sole survivor, finds herself one of the most sought after people in America.  Besieged by media requests which have only gotten more insistent due to a blog set up by her nephew Derek (Jordan Tierney) that has chronicled her recovery, the intensely private Sybil finally agrees to grant an interview with Tessa MacKenzie (slickly played by Yeauxlanda Kay), an aspirant to the throne of Oprah.

But Tessa, armed with material dug up by her assistant (Samantha Fairfield Walsh), plans a little gotcha journalism, and the capper is an unexpected announcement from Joe (Sean Williams), the paramedic who found her crushed body in the wreckage and saved her life.

Sybil, a new media neophyte, discovers the mercurial nature of internet and media fame, as the court of public opinion turns against her.  Sybil, Derek and Joe find themselves adrift and unsure how to move forward, as they struggle to bring their lives back into some kind of order.

Playwright Kari Bentley-Quinn has created a remarkably sensitive and intelligent play, and director Christopher Diercksen has a solid grasp of the ebb and flow of the piece.  The ensemble is outstanding, with particular praise to Thomas for her skilled performance as Sybil.  Her nuanced work brings Sybil's physical and mental struggles to life without ever going overboard.  Plus, her accent was great.

Although I've given the character of Joe short shrift, much of that is due to a plot point that I don't want to spoil.  However, I must compliment Williams on his portrayal of the down on his luck Joe.  Williams really shines in a short scene between Joe and Derek.

I highly recommend seeing this production, part of The Secret Theatre's New Voices Project.  The Secret Theatre is to be commended encouraging new works of this caliber.

The Unlikely Ascent of Sybil Stevens
By Kari Bentley-Quinn
Directed by Christopher Diercksen
Producer: Leta Tremblay
Set Designer: Meredith Ries
Costume Designer: Sarah Bertolozzi
Lighting Designer: Aaron Porter
Sound Designer: Beth Lake
Projection Designer: Kevin Brouder
Stage Manager: Sarah Lahue
Assistant Producer: Yvonne Hartung
Production Assistant: Emily Delbridge
Publicity: Lanie Zipoy
Executive Producer: Richard Mazda
Production Photographer: Kacey Stamats

Featuring: Yeauxlanda Kay, Jennifer Gordon Thomas, Jordan Tierney, Samantha Fairfield Walsh, Sean Williams

Through February 23rd

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