Theater Review: Echoes

Photo by Dylan Jon Wade Cox
Photo by Dylan Jon Wade Cox
Dennis Maley
SARASOTA — It would be easy to suspect that British playwright Henry Naylor has bitten off more than he can chew at the onset Echoes, which had its regional debut at Urbanite on Friday. A two-actress play that incorporates dual, non-linear narratives, each occurring centuries apart, it takes a couple of scenes for the audience to find the rhythm of the play. However, that rhythm, once discovered,provides a hypnotic, almost trance-inducing effect. 

Naylor has mostly made his career as a comedy actor and writer. However, he wowed audiences in 2014 with The Collector, set in Iraq at the onset of the 2003 war. Echoes is actually the second installment of what he's called his Arabian Nightmares trilogy, with the equally well-received Angel, about a female, Syrian resistance fighter, having opened to considerable accolades last year. 

In Echoes, Tillie is a Victorian pioneer who leaves Ipswich, England to go to Afghanistan with her military officer husband, where she is expected to bear children for the glory of the British Empire. Samira is a modern-day Muslim school girl who likewise absconds the same British city, in this case to become a sister-wife for a jihadist soldier in the Islamic State.

Both women have an honest intent that is driven by religious devotion, yet both meet horrible fates—at the hand of equally-horrible men—which make both their sacrifices and their faith seem hollow and misguided. Naylor has much to say about the similarities between the way fundamental religions have continued to be used as catalysts for ambitions that are anything but true to the tenets of those faiths. But he has even more to say about the evils that men do. 

At the heart of his narrative is the premise that man's never-ending battle has not been with himself but rather a sustained and ultimately inexplicable assault on the female of the species. Naylor makes a good case for his argument, and the story takes on additional gravity given the recent onslaught of male-on-female crime and oppression that has forced us to more closely examine the phenomenon.

The searing tension builds in a tortuous manner, slow and sustained until it ultimately explodes in a violent crescendo that is unimaginable given that it's a black box play in which the two people onstage never once address each other. The villains, though they never appear, nonetheless manage to loom as viscerally as bedtime monsters in a well-told ghost story.

Mari Vial-Golden is breathtakingly-intense as Samira, guiding the audience right into an unfamiliar world in a way that a news story or even a documentary could never approach. Kate Berg is fantastic as Tillie, just as deftly walking us into a Victorian England that is perfectly devoid of the saccharine sentimentality most plays adorn it with.

Director Brendan Ragan, an Urbanite co-founder and FSU Asolo-Conservatory alum, once again gets every bit of bitter-sweet juice from a masterful squeeze. Echoes is equally introspective and riveting. This tight, 65-minute, no-intermission drama runs through December 17. Visit the Urbanite website for ticket and calendar information.

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