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Nothing screams “disillusionment” like having your mother’s corpse rotting in your washtub. Oddly sympathetic and certainly unconventional, Andy J. Boyd ’14’s self-written and directed “Affordable Rates and Color TV” narrates a coming-of-age story that finds a triumphant balance between a tinge of bitterness and a dose of hope. Directed and written with insightful subtlety, the play—which ran from October 6 to 8 in the Adams Pool Theatre—aims to make bold statements about life and the decisions that shape it. To Boyd’s credit, it is mostly able to do so, but is occasionally hindered by the unsteadiness of the supporting actors.
Set against the backdrop of a high school prom, the play follows Kim (Mary C. Hallowell ’14), the caretaker of a run-of-the-mill motel, as she is faced with a fork in the road: does she leave with her deadbeat boyfriend Scott (William D. Kehler ’12), or stay put in the place she has always known as home? To exacerbate the obvious problem of her mother’s dead body, Kim must face romantic tension between her and Frankie (Omar A. Cancio ’12), her childhood best friend. These intrapersonal conflicts ultimately reach a boiling point, and Kim must decide which path she wants to take.
Hallowell presents Kim with such earnest zeal that it is hard not to root for her. Whether in a small bite at her nails to show she’s nervous or the silly giggle she emits while dancing in her mother’s old wedding dress, Hallowell’s attention to detail elevates Kim from simply another costume that is zipped on for the night to an actual person that has both virtues and faults. Kim is a coward, but is still strong in her conviction. Her character is filled with paradoxes, but mountains of contradictions and incongruities typify real people all too often. Hallowell is able to encompass all of these competing facets with an easy fluidity.
At times, though, Hallowell’s performance seems at odds with her co-stars’, not so much due to mismatched chemistry, but rather to the other actors’ uneasiness with their own characters. Scott is clearly bad news and the most emotionally convoluted character, but Kehler seems unable to commit to the role. The sleazy “baby” that Scott often coos to Kim feels awkward on Kehler’s tongue. While Kehler shows glimpses of true assimilation into his character, these are outweighed by moments of discomfort and superficiality. The same could be said for Cancio, who is not fully able to embrace Frankie’s poindexter persona. When Cancio lists off ’80s hits or laughs nervously as Hallowell seduces him, his actions come across—likely unintentionally—as a mere façade.
As a director, Boyd has a talent for displaying tension. The audience is led to fall into a soft lull, but is then delivered a dose of energy that rattles the bones. Kim is dancing with Frankie in her wedding dress when Scott comes through the door. The air stands still, and the audience holds their breath. The actors’ relative positions in this moment convey the tensions between them better than any shouted line of dialogue. The whole spectacle is startling, and it’s these spikes in emotion that Boyd does best in both his writing and directing.
The technically unobtrusive attitude towards transitions and interludes, which are characterized by blue or no lighting, compliments Boyd’s subtle treatment of life’s most wrenching complications. Boyd never reaches for dramatic effect, preferring to take a more naturalistic approach and trust the intelligence—and intepretive ability—of the audience, a decision which lends itself well to the play’s overall tone.
Claire P. Flintoff ’14’s set design contributes to the atmosphere by leaving everything to the audience while providing clear but unobtrusive guidance. In the set’s portrayal of the check-in lobby of a motel, two doors that lead in and out provide a delightful freedom for the audience. They never see the mother’s dead body, but they know that it is behind the white door.
Boyd’s play is packed with bitter, cynical black humor levied by a sense of humanity, a choice of tone that underpins the play’s worldview. There is no black or white, only grey. Ben (William H. Ryan ’14), a corporate worker who checks into the motel and serves as Kim’s strange guru, says it perfectly. “Life is hard. It will be hard either way, and so if you look at your life and it’s hard you shouldn’t say that it means you chose wrong. It just means you chose to live.” Boyd’s play resonates with modern, young adult anxieties, and while there are few hiccups due to an emotional disconnect between actors and characters, it retains a lasting, contemplative effect.
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