Let’s hear it for Synchronicity Theatre, by all accounts the first Atlanta theater company to reopen its venue for actual indoor stage productions (on a part-time basis, at least). Take it from a longtime theater fan like me: Words can’t fully describe the sheer satisfaction of attending a live and in-person show again — just like in the good old days, before the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions more than seven months ago.
Under the guidance of co-founding artistic director Rachel May, the troupe has started its 23rd season with “4x4,” a series of four solo pieces written and performed by women. The first of them is “Backstage and Other Stories,” which details some of the showbiz anecdotes of local actress and Broadway veteran Terry Burrell. A breezy musical revue of sorts, it’s being offered in a streaming-only format.
But the other three are part of an innovative “hybrid” program, In the Theatre/On the Screen — each presented live onstage for a week (for a limited number of masked, physically distanced audience members), and then subsequently streamed online. Sherry Jo Ward’s bittersweet “Stiff,” involving her struggles with a rare degenerative disease, and Lucy Smith’s “Company of Bears,” a metaphorical meditation on the trials and tribulations of motherhood, both played in-person at Synchronicity last month and streamed for an additional couple of weeks thereafter.
I opted to hold out for the fourth and final entry in the lineup, “rip.” For one thing, it’s written by Danielle Deadwyler, an Atlanta actress whose work I’ve seen and covered for many years now, long before her widespread success on TV (as a series regular on Tyler Perry’s “The Haves and Have Nots” and, more recently, with a recurring role on HBO’s “Watchmen”). For another thing, it showcases the up-and-coming Jasmine Thomas (who has graced Atlanta stages of late in everything from a French-speaking production of “The Little Prince” to adaptations of Jane Austen and Shakespeare).
The play is billed as “equal parts performance art and domestic drama (that) explores the collapse of a young couple’s union (with) a breathtaking deep dive into the lifecycle of relationships.” That’s good to know ahead of time, because “rip” is unapologetically abstract or “non-linear” in its structure, not always as easy to follow narratively as it is to appreciate as a stylized, stream-of-consciousness form of spoken-word poetry.
Thomas skillfully articulates all of Deadwyler’s complex language, fiercely portraying a kind of soul-searching Everywoman — from one instant to the next, she might be speaking as a mother or a daughter, as a wife or a lover — battling demons both spiritual and psychological, prone to “asking questions you don’t want the answers to,” consumed by unimaginable thoughts and nightmarish dreams, and essentially torn between a misbegotten past and an optimistic future.
Fluidly directed by Addae Moon, “rip” is also sharply designed. Elisaabeth Cooper’s lighting is alternately stark and subtle. Dan Bauman’s soundscape is suitably distorted but effective. Occasional moments of choreographed movement are credited to Anicka Austin. The periodic video projections are by Kimberly Binns (some of the images are difficult to make out, though, against the backdrop of a jagged brick wall). And Gabrielle Stephenson’s set is accented with ominous tree branches — to shape a chair, a bedframe, even the symbolic doorway/mirror through which the protagonist finally emerges as her very own woman.
Is “rip” one of the greatest productions I’ve ever seen? No. Is it among the most flawed or frustrating? Hardly. It’s available for virtual viewing through Nov. 8, but experiencing the play live, in a real theater and from a real stage, definitely rendered it that much easier to empathize with and embrace the character’s ultimate sense of hope, in terms of how it corresponds to these uncertain times in which we avid theatergoers find ourselves, too.
Available for streaming through Nov. 8. $10. 404-484-8636, www.synchrotheatre.com.
Bottom line: Ponderous at times, but well-performed.
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