HT Review: Cardinal’s last walkabout play for 2020 goes to the B-Line
Connie Shakalis | H-T Reviewer
Sunday, November 29
It’s a dank, clammy, dreary, grizzled Sunday afternoon, perfect for learning about Ellie (Aubrey Seader), a new student at Indiana University.
Upon arrival in Bloomington, something untoward happens among the campus’ hickories and red oaks. We will hear later of kidnapped little boys, questionable heredity and a lecherous reverend.
“Trap & Release” by Emily Goodson is Cardinal Stage’s last, unfortunately, walkabout play of the season. Staff have assured me that, with improved weather next spring, more audio plays are coming, and I’m glad.
I have so enjoyed artistic director Kate Galvin’s recreation of walkabout plays, where the audience listens to the play through headphones from their devices. But more — as we listen we walk from site to site, this last time along the B-Line Trail. Not only does the listener’s imagination build the set, so does the walking route. Cardinal has no permanent home, but even for theater groups that do, this venue has been an enticing departure.
Audio plays are gaining speed for many reasons, and it seems as though they have no ceiling to cap where they can go, both geographically and imaginatively.
“Trap & Release” is the fourth part of Cardinal’s tetralogy, and it helps immensely to have heard the first three. In this fourth part, Ellie shows her mettle as she saves Bloomington from dismal consequences.
The cast, again, is good. Shannon O’Connor Starks, again as the awful auntie — is she? — stands out. Robert Hornbostel’s sound design, again, is admirable.
But I still see this as a staged play, not an audio play. Too many similar-sounding female voices add to the confusion of what is happening and why I should care. There is a lot of who-is-related-to-whom in the story, which might be fascinating if one is genetically linked to the Brewsters, the main characters. But to the non-Brewster, it is less so.
I can imagine Ellie and her aunts arguing, as they often do. But on a stage. Costumed in crinoline and reemerging decades later with the detriments of time in their wigs and stage makeup, they would poke, cavort and embrace. In the audio play, however, conversations left me ping-ponging among my brain’s questions: “Wait, she’s in a stone fish? No, she’s coming out of a grave? Huh, someone’s touching a hell-bound rock somewhere? What?”
A narrator, particularly one summarizing the previous plays and scenes, might have helped. More sound effects and music would help. More — and different — accents could help. Or children’s characters. Or more male voices; there is only one (Joshua Smith as Levi). When Levi realizes his children have been kidnapped he sounds as upset as if he had received a latte instead of an iced green tea with lemon. “I’m frightened,” he says, and I imagine him looking askance at his Starbucks cup.
This is where audio plays are so very different from staged ones. The voices just have to differ — greatly — from one another, and lines must be compellingly delivered. No props, costumes, sets, fellow actors or facial expressions exist to help interpret the action.
If anyone can make these walkabouts work next year, I am enthusiastically betting on Galvin. She is super smart and a dedicated creator of all things theater.
As soon as the crocuses are up, I will be heading for my earbuds and a Cardinal audio play.