Judson Jones and Christa Kimlicko Jones in Umbrella
(© Trevor Oswalt Photography)
Judson Jones and Christa Kimlicko Jones in Umbrella
(© Trevor Oswalt Photography)
Life in a big city isn't for everyone. The sad souls in L. Pontius' promising but labored new play, Umbrella, currently playing the Kirk Theatre, long to escape but can't seem to find their way out. While it might seem an easy solution to simply move to the country, the characters are trapped by a fear of change and an ever growing sense of despair.

As the play opens, Frank (Judson Jones) has brought the troubled Helen (Christa Kimlicko Jones) up to his building's rooftop, where they share cigarettes and trade stories of their sad, frustrated lives. The details the characters disclose during their interaction are interesting enough, but the way they exchange such information feels overly forced. Certainly, the loneliness that each feels is cause enough for them to continue to talk, but they don't establish enough of a relationship before starting to reveal their deepest secrets and desires to one another.

The blame for this may partly lie with Padraic Lillis' static direction, or with the lack of chemistry between the two actors. Christa Kimlicko Jones, with her bleached blonde hair showing dark roots, has a powerful presence, but isn't convincing in Helen's most emotional moments. Judson Jones projects Frank's nervousness and discomfort well, but doesn't offer much more than that in terms of a nuanced characterization.

Set designer Lea Umberger has done a fine job in creating a rooftop environment, with window frames surrounding the main playing area to give the suggestion of other buildings. Jill BC Du Boff's sound design expertly creates a near-constant background hum of city noises so that when it abruptly stops, the sudden quiet catches you off guard. Sarah Sidman's lighting is also well rendered. The most stunning design moment, however, comes when the characters are required to use the umbrella of the play's title as a stream of water rains down upon them.

Still, as Umbrella winds its way to its predictably melodramatic conclusion, such crackling moments of theatricality simply aren't enough to cover up the play's flaws.