The Raft

[The following review ran in Variety the week of February 5th.]

Fifteen years after her well-received local hit Motherload, Denver playwright Coleen Hubbard reintroduces us to sisters Marta and Elan in her contemporary take on American motherhood, The Raft. The two strikingly different women are still married to the same men, but the kids have grown up, and the job market and the empty nest have them jumpy.

Mixing designer Tina Anderson's utilitarian post-modern set pieces with Hubbard's well-employed Greek chorus of "Gazes"—who speak not in the classical voice of public commentary but in the personal voice of the subconscious mind—director Jim Hunt creates a playful environment in which exterior and interior journeys are seamlessly intertwined.

Photo of Gracie Carr as Marta, with David Russell, Julia Elstun Payne, and Erik Holum as the Gazes
Gracie Carr as Marta, with
David Russell, Julia Elstun Payne,
and Erik Holum as the Gazes
Photo: Modern Muse Theatre Co.
In the eye of this mid-life cyclone lies Marta's bed and safe haven, The Raft, where we find her medicating on red wine and chocolates, keeping the Gazes and her husband, Peter, at bay. Only Elan is able to rouse her, as a sister would, with a recitation of travails. In Hubbard's witty dialogue, the sisters' kvetching crackles in contrast to the Gazes' zingers, integrating the play's exterior and interior conversations in natural narrative patterns.

Gracie Carr's droll insouciance (in reprising her role as Marta) and Martha Harmon Pardee's domineering airs (in reprising her role as Elan) serve as fertile starting points for dramatic arcs that take them in antithetical directions on their quests for the rewards of both motherhood and a career.

Photo of Gracie Carr as Marta and Martha Harmon Pardee as Elan
Gracie Carr as Marta and
Martha Harmon Pardee as Elan
Photo: Modern Muse Theatre Co.
Omnipresent in Marta's mind and on stage, each of the three Gazes gracefully slip back and forth from nagging second-thoughts to full-blown relationships: Seductive and serpentine, David Russell is the snotty interior designer as well as the alluring environmental activist; Julia Elstun Payne (also a reprise from the prequel) coolly segues from prim to promiscuous as the patronizing career counselor and the bimbo waitress; newcomer Erik Holum is a revelation as Barney, Marta and Peter's oldest son; and John Gaydeski paints an earnest and caring Peter.

Despite her husband's and her son's positive feedback on her tireless efforts, Marta remains conflicted about the value of her contributions: She recognizes Peter as a steady breadwinner, but criticizes him as the absent, work-oriented father; she feels devalued in the marketplace, yet she fails to see it is Peter's dedication to his career that provides the framework for their family as surely as her multi-tasking skills provide the foundation. Hasn't Marta gotten back a hundredfold what she gave?

Photo of Gracie Carr as Marta and John Gaydeski as Peter
Gracie Carr as Marta and
John Gaydeski as Peter
Photo: Modern Muse Theatre Co.
These gaps—between Marta's choice of motherhood and her expectations of entitlement in the marketplace; between her wanting the high-paying, meaningful job without spending the requisite years cultivating the expertise; between wanting Peter at home more of the time, yet needing his salary to send two kids through college; indeed, between her spiritual values (nurturing, volunteering, etc.) and her material desires (more income)—are the only aspects of this snappy and consistently funny script that don't draw laughs, and ultimately lead to an awkward ending after zipping us along on an uproarious and insightful ride for 95% of the evening. Why does Marta abandon the ironic perspective of her raft?

After only one staged reading and in the midst of its first production, the script is in remarkable shape and provides plenty of opportunities for Hubbard to find the fittingly humorous last scene to the second installment of her smart cycle on mid-life womanhood in early 21st century America.

Modern Muse Theatre Company's world premiere of Coleen Hubbard's The Raft, directed by Jim Hunt, runs through February 26th. Staged readings of the prequel, Motherload, are performed concurrently, on off-nights and afternoons. 303-780-7836.

Bob Bows


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