Anthony J. Piccione
- OnStage Contributing Critic
When we talk about the way we produce energy here in the United States, we tend to talk about it in one of two ways, if not both: The long-term negative impact it’s having on our planet, or how many workers are reliant on these forms of energy production to take home a paycheck. However, what seems to get lost too often in this discussion are the everyday health risks and hazards that such workers are facing, many of which could often be life-threatening. That’s exactly the subject matter that is explored on a very human level in Kate Gill’s new play Soundview Summer.
This new play – produced by Hudson Theatre Works at Theaterlab – tells the story of Billy and Jack, two young men who worked at Soundview Nuclear Plant back in the summer of 1974, in the hopes of reaping some of the financial security that came with a job such as that. However, years later, they are now both seeing their health conditions decline dramatically, as a result of the hazardous conditions they both saw themselves subjected to, during their time working at Soundview. Over the course of the play, we watch as not just them, but also their respective families, are forced to deal with the consequences that come with working in such an environment.
I always love well-written, thought-provoking plays which deal with issues that many people deal with on a regular basis, and do so in a way that provides a detailed and vivid picture of characters who are dealing which such problems and are seeing it have a major impact on their lives. For me, Soundview was very much an example of such a play, and I applaud Ms. Gill for writing such a play. The hazardous work conditions of characters such as Billy and Jack are an issue that I feel deserves more consideration and attention, and it’s nice to see a play that shines a light on it.
What makes the story even better is the fact that it is brought to life by a phenomenal cast. The performance that stood out most was that of Brian Richardson, who delivered an especially powerful and exceptional performance in the role of Jack. Vincent Sagona also delivers strongly with a superb performance in the role of Billy. Meanwhile, Annie McGovern does a very fine job in the role of Ellie, while Sharon Hope was excellent in the role of Aunt Jessie. The cast is rounded out by Susan Barrett as Cathy, Gregory Erbach as Chaney and Stuard Rudin as Joe.
In terms of the staging and tech elements, this is a great example of a play that doesn’t need maximalist technical elements to be an engaging theatrical experience. Under the direction of Frank Licato, the cast makes excellent usage of the intimate studio space as the audience watches up close from wall to wall. There are some good lighting elements that help set the mood of the play at various moments, and the projections to indicate where each scene took place also worked nicely. For the most part, however, the story and the performances are what carry this production.
The only reason I can think of that would cause someone to not enjoy this play is if that person is someone who only enjoys soft theatre and doesn’t care for plays that get you thinking, if not somewhat emotional toward the end. As far as I’m concerned, Soundview Summer is a gripping play that keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end, and I hope this isn’t the last we’ll be hearing of this play. For now, though, be sure to consider seeing it this November during its premiere.
“Soundview Summer" – produced by Hudson Theatre Works – runs at Theaterlab from November 3rd to 19th. For more information, please visit www.theaterlabnyc.com/events/soundview-summer.