The Resting Place – Virtual Performance
Updated: Dec 5, 2020
Words by Jimmy Dragas. Image courtesy of New Theatre N Norfolk. (Photos by Samuel Flint from their performance at the Goode Theater.)
How does a family mourn a monster? How does that family survive society’s judgment? We see headlines detailing atrocities so often it can be desensitizing but, while we may take a moment to grieve for the victims and their families, do we ever really spare a thought for the families of the perpetrators? Those people who had the misfortune to love someone they had no idea was a monster? These are the central questions of The Resting Place, by Ashlin Halfnight.
The play focuses on the Jackson family after the death of their son and brother Travis. Little by little we learn that Travis died by suicide and had committed heinous acts through his life, though we don’t know exactly what he’s done until later in the play. Crowds outside the family home protest as the family struggle with how to grieve and move on.
Travis’s sister Annie arrives home two days after Travis’s suicide and is horrified to learn that her parents and sister have decided there will be no obituary or funeral. Nor will they inter Travis in the family plot of their church. Rather they have decided on a quick, quiet cremation. Annie, seeing things as black and white, wants desperately to honor her brother’s memory; the others are mostly trying to cope in their own ways and to survive society’s judging gaze.
I recently spoke with director Connor Norton about the New Theatre-N-Norfolk’s upcoming live stream of this challenging piece. He had this to say about the central theme of the play:
“When you hear the story about what the son committed, you are tempted to immediately go to a black and white stance that, no, absolutely, he did something wrong and should be horrendously persecuted for it and there should be no sign of remorse or happiness for this person. But it’s not that black and white, it never is. What we see in this family are the secondary victims: the people who loved him, cared for him, and grew up with him all their lives, but had no idea about all of this horrible stuff. Who now have to wrestle with the fact that this image, this loved person that they grew up with isn’t real, or isn’t the person they thought he was. And it’s heartbreaking… these are people that are suffering in a way that we don’t normally think about, because for us it is so much easier to persecute or to ignore, or do whatever we do against people that we feel are black and white criminals, but we don’t think about the families they leave behind, or the friends they leave behind who never knew any of these things and have to reconcile with all of that without a person to talk to. There’s no way for them to ask any of the questions of why did you do it, or how could you have done this, because that person is gone.”
The Resting Place first premiered at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, directed by Jessica Holt. As it so happens, Ms. Holt is a mentor to Norton, which is how this new work found its way to Hampton Roads. Norton discussed the script with Holt, who passed his interest on to the author, and last summer’s east coast premiere of the piece was the result.
Last summer’s performances were at ODU’s Goode Theatre. At the time, it seemed as though everyone who saw or worked on it was thoroughly affected by this play. Actor Brian Cebrian said of his role “playing Mitch Jackson was, and is, one of the most complex and difficult characters I’ve ever had to play. As the play progresses you see him move from loving father who deteriorates under the pressure from the community and his family, exhaustion, and his feelings of self-guilt as he tries to hold them together. It finally drives him to an action that he would never have even considered in any other circumstance. As a father myself, it is difficult not to feel and internalize Mitch’s struggles and feelings of guilt. Desire to protect your children, even from themselves yet not being able to.”
The upcoming stream will necessarily be a little different from a traditional performance. Due to safety concerns with the current pandemic crisis, the actors will not be in the same room. They will instead be teleconferencing over Zoom as they perform their parts. Something is always lost in this type of setting; in addition to the obvious (lighting, sets, costumes, blocking, etc.), actors often feed on each other’s energy when playing a scene. Not being able to be in the same physical space thus presents a challenge.
“All things considered, I’d rather be in the theatre house in front of a live audience,” Cebrian said of the stream. “Since all but one of the original cast is back, it wasn’t too difficult for us to fall back into our characters. It’s not the same though, yes, we can read the lines and we know our characters, and we did do some character work with Connor to compensate and adjust for the online format, but not being in the same space with these wonderful actors makes it more difficult. Not having Margo, Sylvie or Katie, right there in the space, it’s much harder to get into the scene and react naturally. I miss being in the space with this cast and crew.”
Norton, though, is happy with how the cast has adapted. “Everybody rolled into this kind of muscle memory of the show so beautifully that it kind of caught me off guard.” The biggest challenge, according to him, was just navigating the limitations of the platform. “One of the things that is very hard with the live stream reading is worrying about whether or not you are cutting off another person’s line, or when there’s overlap talking or moments of high tension, and there’s particularly a few scenes like that in our show where all four or five people are talking at once. Figuring out how to do that in a way that doesn’t sound displeasing to the viewer was probably our biggest challenge. If everyone’s talking at once, you have a cacophony of feeds coming in and out that you have no idea who to listen to.”
Ultimately, The Resting Place promises to be a worthwhile experience, even in this pared down format. Performances will be on May 15, 16, and 17 at 7pm.
Tickets are available at this link. Proceeds will go to benefit The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia. Stream will be shared via a Youtube Link or Zoom Conference link. Method of viewing and how-to instructions will be emailed a week prior to performance; link will be emailed an hour before curtain.