There are things you’ll need to know before seeing Ward Theatre Company’s production of “Revival,” based on 1950s church tent meetings in Appalachia.
The company is the performance component of Ward Acting Studio, which founder Wendy Ward recently relocated to Durham after stints in New York City, Philadelphia and Australia. She teaches Meisner technique that emphasizes subtle immersion into character, particularly useful for screen roles. To that end, the office complex theater space offers just two-dozen seats in a single row, allowing intimate proximity to the actors.
“Revival,” the company’s third production here, is a new piece, researched and improvised over three months by Ward and nine actors from her studio. The 75-minute work is not plot-driven but an assembly of impressions, including text, music and dance (not always from the period) to indicate a revival’s power over attendees.
Technical aspects are impressive, beginning with the canvas-covered walls and ceiling, lined with strings of bare light bulbs. Bryan Walser’s ambient soundscape, from crickets to crowd noises, supplies authentic atmosphere, enhanced by the un-credited costume, hair and props designs.
The piece has four scenes. Two lengthy ones take place during the revival itself, with characters seated facing the audience but looking up at an unseen preacher. His rousing exhortations invoke clapping, stomping and hand waving, often in frenzied or mesmerized states. In two short scenes, a man tells about an emotional religious dream and a woman in a wheelchair rails against her body’s condition.
The actors deserve much credit for maintaining convincing individualized characterizations, especially as most have few lines of dialogue. They also show admirable talents in singing spirituals and performing two highly choreographed dance sequences.
But a lot of time is taken up with repetitive reactions to the preacher’s blandly stereotypical sermons. Except for the fevered responses to them, the overall pacing is low-key, with characters wandering slowly on and off or spending much time folding and placing chairs.
The production’s premise could have offered intriguing insights into the world of revivals but what’s presented is so minimal and undeveloped, it’s difficult to stay engaged with the material.
Those directly involved in theater may find the presentation intriguing but those seeking involving dramatic structure will likely have more appreciation for the company’s next scripted play, “Honour,” in July.
Where: Ward Theatre Company, 4905 Pine Cone Drive, Suite 12, Durham
When: 7:30 p.m. April 18-22, 25-29, May 5-6; 2 p.m. April 23 and 30, May 7
Info: 917-816-2122 or wardtheatrecompany.com