Theatre Raleigh’s “Family Series” offers up theatre that whole families can enjoy together. The “family” branding, however, doesn’t mean that these productions aren’t thought-provoking and innovative, as is the case with the current production, “Where Words Once Were,” written by Finegan Kruckemeyer and under the direction of Noah Putterman.
The show is billed as “a play about language and its absences,” and it definitely is…but it’s also about a lot more. This short-but-intense 70 minute play is set in a city that is strictly limited to 1000 words. When a new word is introduced, an old one must fall away and be “forgotten,” though forgetting proves to be more difficult and to have more consequences than the characters bargain for.
The characters, in this case, include, among others, Alli the Baker, softly portrayed by Tyanna West; her son, Orhan (Vincent Bland, Jr.), Orhan’s friends, Kieran (Matthew Harvey) and Eila (Christine Lane); and an outsider known only as “Girl” (Qualia Akili Holder-Cozart). It is this “Girl” who causes lots of changes in the lives of all the townspeople, including and especially Orhan, when she boldly goes against and questions the rules the City has put in place. Holder-Cozart, whose character also serves as a narrator of sorts, offers a rich portrayal, perfectly capturing the lilting, poetic cadence that the script calls for.
That cadence is important because not only is this a play about language, but it’s a play that celebrates it as well. The beautiful wordplay that takes place on stage, combined with soft, impressive lighting effects and direction and staging that take on an ethereal quality, make this production feel like a dreamy fairytale with a healthy dose of dystopia thrown in.
And, while it would be easy to just get lost in the setting and feel, this play asks viewers to invest a little more. It charges them to think about language and its importance and about word themselves and how much power they hold, as well as about the danger of arbitrary rules and about what we lose when we make decisions based solely on fear. A perfect piece to discuss with middle-grade children or to serve as an introduction to thoughtful theatre, this is a production that everyone can benefit from.
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