Hopewell’s 20th Century Blues – ‘No Words Necessary’

By J.E.Ballantyne Jr.
YOUNNGSTOWN, Ohio – If it were possible for a play to speak for itself in a written review instead of having typed words on a page, “20th Century Blues,” by Susan Miller, at the Hopewell Theatre could certainly say plenty. As lead character Danny, in the play, describes her photography career as a profession where no words are necessary – this play needs no words to extol its virtues.

Blues follows four women that meet once a year for a photo shoot which chronicles their changing lives over the period of their 40-year friendship. Danny, the photographer, has been offered the opportunity to exhibit her photographic work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The photos she chooses to exhibit are of her three friends taken over that 40-year period. What ensues is an examination of trust, relationships, and the ongoing issue of past and present as they confront each other about their lives suddenly becoming very public.

Pat Foltz gives a marvelous performance as the creative and energetic Danny. Not only is she the central character in the piece but Danny is the glue that holds the entire show together. Foltz is so natural in the role that the audience easily befriends her right from her opening monologue. Foltz gives the role just the right injections of humor, sadness, frustration and love all the while doing it with an impish grin which is tough to resist.

Kim Akins as Mac, a writer for a downsizing newspaper, delivered a smooth performance of a woman who seems to know who she is and where she is going at the outset but then transitions well into some doubts as concerns begin to surface about the photos and what is coming next for her as her life and career face major changes. Akins is very believable in the role, particularly in an early scene with Foltz with great timing and humor. She keeps Mac light and witty as a black female lesbian who sometimes isn’t sure which of those “causes” needs her immediate attention.

Gabby, a veterinarian by trade, is played by Brenda Zyvith. Gabby is a sort of Pollyanna character always trying to see the best and the positive in most everything. Zyvith’s performance is energetic and she keeps Gabby at a high level of sunshine even to the point of bringing the other women shower caps which she lifted from the hotel.

The one character that takes the biggest turn from the others is Sil played by Stephanie Cambro. Sil is much more self-absorbed than the others and sees the forthcoming exhibit as an extreme setback to her own real estate career. Convinced that her face sells houses, she is much less willing for her photos to go public. Cambro delivers a deeply felt performance that was somewhat hindered in the first act by a Brooklyn accent that seemed a bit stilted. She also seemed to be trying too hard to be Sil rather than just letting it happen. This seemed to turn around considerably in Act II.

Also impressive in smaller roles are Lynn Nelson Rafferty and Nate Beagle. Rafferty plays Bess, Danny’s mother, who suffers from dementia. Although one of the smaller roles that Rafferty has played over her lengthy career, it may also be one of her best. So believable is she as the 91-year old Bess, that she looks like she may topple over any minute as she shuffles her way around the stage.

Beagle is Simon, Danny’s adopted son, who is on stage only briefly but turns in a great performance having just returned from a meeting to meet his birth mother. The ensuing scene with Foltz is a highlight of Act II.

Matthew Mazuroski’s direction is unobtrusive and lets the actors create these characters while providing them with a great framework on which to build. The friendship of the four women is so believable it could have only come from their working chemistry. Mazuroski also designed the exquisite set of Danny’s apartment complete with spectacular artwork that is actually for sale once the show closes.

The play touches on many subjects and delves into many emotions including a look at how we deal with aging as a society. The play does, indeed, speak for itself. You will think about it long after you’ve seen it.

It is good to have live theater return to the area after so long an absence.

Pictured at top: The cast of Hopewell Theatre’s production of “20th Century Blues” is Pat Foltz, Kim Akins, Lynn Nelson-Rafferty, Brenda Zyvith, Stephanie Cambro Holt and Nathan Beagle. 

CAUTION: Adult language and situations
20th Century Blues will continue Sat. Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Sat. Sept. 10-11 at 7:30 p.m.; Sun. Sept. 12 at 2 p.m
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Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.