(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Cate Blouke.)
Perhaps seeing the struggles of others helps us have compassion for our own familial challenges, or it gives us a healthy dose of “at least my family isn’t that bad.”
Austin playwright Elizabeth Doss’s exploration of her family history, “Mast,” playing through Aug. 8 at Salvage Vanguard, layers poetic dialogue with haunting imagery to craft a story that takes us across oceans and far beyond the bounds of drawing room realism.
In terms of plot, “Mast” charts the course of a hasty romance, shotgun wedding, and unfortunate consequences of mismatched lovers.
But it gives us the story in lovingly crafted snippets, asking us to keep pace as the character age and move through the rough terrain of their lives.
The show’s design is lovely. Lisa Laretta drops us into a cool, spacious environment that evokes the ocean and sailing without detracting from the kitchens and living rooms in which many scenes are set.
Under the direction of Diana Lynn Small, the characters leave the remnants of the past on stage, and the debris serves as a material reminder of the complicated lives we watch unfold. Mark Stewart beautifully accompanies the performance with live music and sound.
As the lead couple, Katie Bender (Ann) and Jesse Bertron (Walter) may have jumped the gun on getting together, but they play their eventual dissolution with biting acerbity. Sean Francis Moran plays their troubled almost love-child, born in the Dominican Republic and torn from everything familiar before eventually taking to the sea.
A clean-shaven Noel Gaulin presents an ominous figure lurking throughout the play as the Dominican dictator Trujillo, and Tiffany Nicely-Williams stands as a pillar of strength and loyalty in her roles.
The play is bi-lingual, with many lines spoken in Spanish, though the accompanying surtitles keep everyone in the loop provided you aren’t sitting too close (they are projected on a screen that hangs just below the ceiling).
On opening night, the tone and rhythm of the play took a while to settle. The initial scene of ghostly exposition didn’t quite jive with the rapid romance that followed.
But with Doss’s lovely script to support them, it’s certain the actors will find a more even keel as the run continues.
“Mast” continues 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Aug. 8 at Salvage Vanguard Theater. paperchairs.com