Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit. By Sally Nemeth. Directed by Sandy Shinner. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 45mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Gwen Purdom
Following the industrial explosion and deadly blaze that gives Shattered Globe Theatre’s Mill Fire its name, there’s a particularly painful scene in the production in which a wife is led through the surreal motions of seeing her dying husband in the hospital, horrific burns covering and swiftly shutting down his body. The interaction, like the show as a whole, is raw and searingly authentic. It’s about grief and mourning in all its intricate —and human—forms and just one example of the ways director Sandy Shinner’s interpretation of Sally Nemeth’s complex drama smolders and ignites.
Marlene (a terrific and fiery Kate LoConti) is a young widow working through her husband’s sudden death in her own way in 1978 Birmingham, Alabama. The factory accident that took the lives of her husband, Champ (Drew Schad), and several other workers has rocked the blue-collar city and as the community mourns around her, Marlene’s behavior raises eyebrows and ire.
LoConti, untamed and satisfyingly stubborn, sizzles and pops with conviction, from an explosive anger to a much deeper place of hurt, guilt and genuine sorrow. These conflicted emotions bubble up especially in Marlene’s interactions with her brother, Bo (a layered Ken Bradley), and his bottle-hitting wife, Sunny (Rebecca Jordan), but scenes dominated by more secondary characters such as Bo’s coworker Jemison (Darren Jones) or the Greek chorus of fellow widows (Angie Shriner, Daria Harper and Deana Reed-Foster) too build a haunting and tangible emotional foundation.
Even without a devastating mill fire, the environment in which Nemeth tells her story is a depressing one. A playwright’s note in the program highlights the volatile edge on which 1970s factory towns like Birmingham were teetering as the U.S. government was importing more foreign steel and goods; that desperation is rightfully mirrored and amplified in the rusting set, stormy lighting and story of loss we see here.
And yet the audience isn’t left with only the ever-lingering heartache and damage such loss creates. With the show's powerful performances and production choices, we're also presented with the shaky hope and strength that can eventually rise from the ashes.