Anytime a non run-of-the-mill play is performed, it’s exciting, and the theatre is owed credit for thinking outside of the box. The theatre and play in this case, respectively, are Neuse Little Theatre and its production of Tony Glazer and Anthony Ruivivar’s Safe, under the direction of Matt Gore.
The play begins near the tail-end of a robbery. Gun shots, darkness, and screaming slowly fade away to show five people forced into a big, metal bank safe, artfully designed by Matt Gore. Mostly painted and created via clever cardboard use, the set is quite well done. It includes realistic, working deposit boxes and nice touches, like gold bars and banded cash, that add to the realism.
There's little time to take in the great set, however, because the five characters and their larger-than-life personalities quickly take center stage. An immediate standout is Hallie Hulse Evans’ Sabina. Sabina is neurotic, a little ditzy, and mostly concerned about the welfare of the cats she’s left behind in her New York City home. Evans nails the character, giving her real heart and depth, despite Sabina's startlingly-obvious imperfections. Throughout, Evans provides much of the show’s comic relief and is, undoubtedly, the standout performance.
That’s not to say, however, that the other actors don’t hold their own. While the script seems to have reserved its best lines for Sabina, Ryan (Michael Southern) comes in as a close second with the dark almost-monologues he is given. Southern, as buff and rough as the script calls for, gives an effective portrayal of this brooding character.
Another “brooder” is Truss (Daniel Ruffino), the no-nonsense guy also locked inside the safe. Also inside are the bank manager, Feliz (Ellen Walsh) and security guard, Oakley (Mike Rumble), who has been injured and who is losing blood by the minute. Unfortunately, according to the others, he’s also becoming a liability.
In fact, as time passes and the characters wonder what will become of them, each person seems more and more threatening. The script effectively details the crazy ways in which people act in equally crazy situations. And, as the first act passes, suspicions and mistrust grow, both among the characters and amongst the audience.
Viewers will scramble to find an answer, a hidden clue, a twist as they watch…much in the same way that Gore has his characters scrambling all around the stage. His staging, which has characters fighting, tumbling, and even scurrying around in desperate search of a cell phone signal, open up the small space, as well as the confines of the script itself.
And, while there are still no clear answers after the brief first act, the show comes roaring back to vibrant life and remains intriguing until its finish. The finish, by the way, is a dark and ironic one that speaks to the limitations people impose upon themselves and also subverts the “twist ending” audiences have been expecting in a wonderful way.
This study in human nature is a wild ride and also a ballsy, richly dark choice for a community theatre. Anyone who wants something different from the usual musical or farcical comedy will fall in love with this wild ride.
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