With co-founding executive director Sam R. Ross and artistic director Matthew Kellen Burgos at the helm, Vanguard Repertory Company is hardly new to the theater profession, in general — just new to the Atlanta area, in particular.
The group was formed in 2008, when both men were based in Los Angeles, where they collaborated on several company-created shows over the course of five or six years. In 2014, Ross relocated back here, where he initially co-founded and helped run the well-respected (if short-lived) Down Right Theatre in Duluth during the early ’90s.
Now, Vanguard Rep has re-emerged, operating under the auspices of the multidisciplinary Windmill Arts Center (which opened last year), in a handsomely renovated and keenly repurposed venue in East Point. Continuing the troupe’s tradition of developing new and original theatrical works, its inaugural production is a premiere by a novice Atlanta playwright.
It’s something of a dire commentary on current affairs that Amina S. McIntyre’s family drama “On the Third Day” isn’t exactly very new or original — at least in the tragic sense that the play’s troubling subject matter is basically all-too-familiar, as easily recognizable as yet another sad report from any daily newspaper or nightly newscast.
What Burgos and company do with the material is something different. Especially given the intimate 88-seat “black box” performance space, the production values are sharply conceived and solidly realized. (The playbill cites Burgos for staging the show, but the various design elements are simply credited to “Vanguard Rep.”)
The set includes the back porch of a house, an adjoining telephone pole, and the front end of a junked car, all overtaken by kudzu. The lighting is appropriately moody; the car’s headlights and even the hanging wires on that pole occasionally illuminate to chilling effect. The periodic video projections are alternately dreamlike and nightmarish, as necessary.
McIntyre’s drama centers on the members of a detached Atlanta family grappling with their contrasting grief and guilt, as they prepare to deliver a statement at a sentencing hearing to determine the fate of two young men who killed their son and brother three years earlier. In a succession of musically themed “movements,” “reprises,” “refrains” and “interludes,” the action jumps back and forth in time between now and then.
Reaching a consensus among the disparate relatives will be tough. The mother, Antoinetta (Tanya Freeman), always talks about the children, while the father, Nathaniel (Daviorr Snipes), rarely does. The older son, Omar (Amari J. Ingram), abandoned the family to pursue a music career, to the singular chagrin of the younger son, Evan (Bryshan J. White). The middle daughter, Thalia (Candice Marie Singleton), has embraced a certain ritualistic spiritualism.
The avant-garde-y aspect to Burgos’ approach (if not to the play itself) feels slightly heavy-handed in spells. The show’s climax depicts a supernatural ceremony honoring the family’s dearly departed Junior (who’s seen only as a video image), with each of the members offering up individual testimonials and personal mementos of his life — as in actual props, unlike other scenes (in addition to this one) that involve imaginary water, with diminished results.
To paraphrase a line from one of McIntyre’s characters, though, just because something might be fractured doesn’t mean it’s broken. Indeed, “On the Third Day” marks an admirable and adventurous first effort from the new-to-Atlanta ensemble, arguably all the more so in suburban East Point. The mere existence of another professional theater company in town is probably reason enough to applaud.
“On the Third Day”
Through Aug. 19. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. $20. Windmill Arts Center, 2823 Church St., East Point. 470-588-6244, vanguardrep.com.
Bottom line: A new work by a company new to the local scene.
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