"If you don't shape the dark, it shapes you." That's the advice that a father bestows upon his daughter in Jason Williamson's poetic play, Ether Steeds, at the Actors Playhouse Theatre. Giving words to the unknown and telling stories to explain the world are the primary themes of this compelling and thought-provoking work about damaged individuals. Such tales don't necessarily make things better, but it does allow the characters to connect to one another, and offers the possibility of hope amidst hardship.
The piece is primarily narrated by Skeeta (Sarah Lord), a teenage girl whose father (Todd D'Amour) died as a volunteer fireman, and whose mother (Birgit Huppuch) has since been bringing home a succession of men to fill the void. The latest of these is Emory (Sahr Ngaujah), who is a little different from the rest, and who forms a bond with Skeeta that may prove to be their undoing or their salvation.
Ngaujah -- who will soon be reprising his Obie-winning role in Broadway's Fela! -- has a strong presence and a nice onstage chemistry with Lord that adds tension to their interactions. D'Amour's deep, raspy voice can be charming one moment, and unsettling in the next. Huppuch most successfully brings out the humor within the piece, while still conveying the depths of her character's sadness and despair.
Williamson has a lyrical, magical realist style, with evocative passages that spill from the characters' lips. The repetition of key phrases is used to create a palpable rhythm, and director Niegel Smith emphasizes these aspects of the script without letting them overwhelm the production.
-- Dan Bacalzo