Durham-based playwright Howard L. Craft has firmly established himself with a handful of previous works, particularly his gripping “FREIGHT: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green.” Joseph Megel, who directed that piece, along with other Craft plays, has long been noted for his sensitive, vibrant work.
The pair’s latest project, “The Miraculous and the Mundane,” is a co-production by StreetSigns and Manbites Dog Theater that proves a laugh-filled yet deeply moving play about family and friendship. This workshop staging bodes well for a future full production, especially with some minor adjustments.
The two-act piece centers on Percy Nelson, father of Junior and Chloe and long-time friend of Marine buddy Bone. Percy’s been the strong patriarch but now exhibits signs of dementia. He forgets how to make coffee, loses his wallet and crashes his car.
Junior has been depending on him for financial help, Chloe for acceptance as the model daughter and Bone as a refuge from work and home life. As Percy’s support diminishes, the three find they need to figure out their lives without him.
Craft’s script is a series of snapshots chronicling the significant decline of Percy’s memory. Craft knows how to elicit hearty laughs and sudden tears with carefully chosen words and circumstances. Megel recognizes these elements and consistently gives them maximum punch.
Trevor Johnson’s Percy is extremely engaging: hilarious in his grouchy put-downs, frightening in his combat nightmares, and moving in his acknowledgment of memory loss. Johnson’s scenes with Irving W. Truitt Jr.’s endearing Bone, the play’s highlights, are full of warm camaraderie and mutual grieving.
Craft obviously responds to these older characters more than the younger, his writing for the siblings is often generic and plot-driven. Still, Lakeisha Coffey’s Chloe garners sympathy in wrestling with her true feelings about taking care of her father. Ron Lee McGill makes Junior’s anger and resentment understandable, although he tends to over-physicalize them rather than bring them from within.
There’s a lot of harsh language and sexual banter, often for easy laughs. The busy setups for each scene take more time than ideal for keeping the pace moving forward.
But these quibbles don’t diminish the crowd-pleasing effect of Craft’s universal themes concerning parenting and the complications of aging.
What: “The Miraculous and the Mundane” by Howard L. Craft
Where: Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster Street, Durham
When: 8:15 p.m. March 29-31, April 1
Tickets: $15 (Wednesday-Thursday, $10); students $6 all shows
Info: 919-682-3343 or manbitesdogtheater.org