Writer: Hanna Lea Novak
Director: Hanna Lea Novak & Tina Satter
Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell
The New Ohio Theatre continues its silver anniversary celebration of the Ice Factory Festival with the third show in its guest-curated lineup, The Opera is Always on the Table by Hanna Lea Novak, curated by Half Straddle. Half Straddle’s artistic director Tina Satter co-directs with Novak, and Zach Phillips provides musical direction.
The Opera is Always in the Table focuses on the relationship between Mom (Emily Cass McDonnell) and Daughter (Zoe Wilson). The play’s action opens on a breakfast table where mentions of a distant war that might come closer are interspersed with discussions of current fashion, their war veteran husband/father’s PTSD and drug abuse, Marcy from school, and the sugar content of Cap’n Crunch. This sets the tone for the rest of the play, which focuses on the relationship between the mother and daughter but lets the events of the outside world shape their interactions. When Father (Ben Williams) commits a horrible act of violence offstage, Mom and Daughter go to visit him in prison, where he laments his actions to Mom, citing his PTSD for sending him into a rage. The play ends with Mom and Daughter in a diner, where their conversation reflects that she is shielding her child from her father’s actions as best she can.
The program notes that The Opera is Always in the Table is modeled “after Ajax themes.” The parallels are clear to audience members familiar with Sophocles’s play, but the play’s sharp dialogue and specific characters are enjoyable and accessible to everyone. The acting is strong throughout— in lesser hands, Mom and Daughter’s interactions could devolve into yelling matches, but Wilson captures the vacillation of a young teen’s moods from curious to angry to needy to thoughtful while McDonnell deals with the chaos of her life and her child’s mood swings with exhausted patience rather than fever-pitch frustration. Their engagement with their characters supports Novak’s script as both hilarious and heartbreaking. Williams’s turn as Father is brief, but captures the character’s self-loathing.
While The Opera is Always on the Table is a wonderful play, it is quite short, at under an hour. Thought it doesn’t feel incomplete, it’s hard not to want to spend more time with the characters. The end of the show is somewhat awkward and that may be attributable to the play’s length; after the stage goes to black, the audience didn’t seem entirely sure that the show was over, though those who stuck around after the curtain call got to hear the band perform a solid rendition of The Chiffons’ 1965 B-side “Heavenly Place.” All in all, The Opera is Always on the Table is a thoughtful and funny play that proves a worthy addition to the Ice Factory Festival.
Reviewed on 13 July 2018 | Image: Sung-Ah Jun