Review: Experience the Essence of Theater with 'Shattered'

In its essence, theatre is storytelling. Storytelling the way we long for it as children, told from an expressive human’s lips in the room, where you can almost feel their heartbeat.

Even with enormous orchestras, astonishing choreography, fancy costumes, and smoke-and-mirrors lighting and sound, it’s about effectively telling the story, sharing the particular human experience that allows the audience to not just enter it, but fully empathize with the characters and the tale at hand.

When the bells and whistles, the smoke and mirrors, the possibilities of spectacle are stripped away; when what you have is a stage with actors you can see and hear on it speaking words crafted by a writer, interpreting and expressing the emotions behind those words, it’s still very much about the storytelling, perhaps even more blatantly so without the dazzling production values.

And that is what Bare Backstage Productions offers with their current production Shattered, excellently directed by Kevin Dodd.

“Shattered” is a short, intimate evening of pay-what-you-can theatre, entailing two 30-minute tragicomic monologues delivered by two terrific actors in the humble, comfortable space of Kalamazoo Nonprofit Advocacy Coalition, formerly the First Baptist Church downtown, set up largely cabaret-style.

The first performance is the one-woman “Thief of Tears,” by Jeffrey Hatcher, a funny, sharp emotional roller coaster starring Sarah Lynne Roddis as Mac, known by a family friend she encounters at her grandmother’s funeral as “the bipolar, bisexual drug addict.”

Mac steals jewelry off corpses for a living, making “high five figures” and never getting caught; once she even “got a gold tooth once, don’t ask.” But now it’s her moment, she says, in reclaiming a ring from her grandmother’s body she’d once been promised but denied.

Roddis’s lively, humorous telling is full of earned, honest sass, a delightfully brazen character sprung to life, until she delivers such an unexpected twist in the motivation behind her larceny with such gusto we’re utterly stunned. It’s a darker tale than it seems, and Roddis takes us into the depth with such deft, we go willingly.

Likewise, Michael P Martin has the audience wrapped around his finger much the way Alex, the character he plays in Simon Stephens’ “Sea Wall,” describes his little daughter, foreshadowing a terrible event that brings him to existential crisis.

“Sea Wall,” while speckled with dry, British humor, is intense, and Martin’s performance is gripping. He fully embodies a man in the throes of debilitating grief, recalling, remembering, retelling the crucial moments, characters, scenes that establish the arc of his family’s tremendous loss that irrevocably changes everything.

Like memory, like grief, it comes in fragments, and Martin so effectively captures the stops and starts in remembering, the ways emotions come in waves, and how a, yes, shattered man holds it together—just—to try to make sense of the utterly senseless.

In the hands of these skillful actors, the husband-and-wife team who are widely known for their local performances at The Kalamazoo Civic and The New Vic, these excellently-written short pieces for the stage offer fine storytelling laid bare and well worth experiencing.

The New Vic
Sept. 30-Oct. 9