Alabaster is a play about four troubled women — two of those women are goats, sure, but their problems are equally relevant to a human’s woe. The work succeeds as a moving exploration of loss, love and perception. Though most people only like goats if they’re served with curry and rice, Alabaster has found a creative way to lock in the audience and successfully tell a universal tale via goats: no small task.
That alone is worth the price of admission, but it’s only half the show.
Alice is a tormented photographer who documents women with scars. June lives on a secluded farm in Alabaster, Alabama and her body is covered with stories. No one else lives on June’s farm anymore; her only company is a pair of goats named Weezy and Bib. When Alice and June meet in Alabaster for a photo session, it’s apparent they have some things in common, but the ability to hold a two-sided conversation with goats is not yet one of them.
Let’s address the goats in the room, as they’re heavily featured in advertisements for playwright Audrey Cefaly’s exceptional dramatic achievement. Weezy (Keisha L. Kemper) acts as the story’s narrator. She appears to the audience as a deadpan farmer whose stoic nature is abundantly clear thanks to Kemper’s performance. She sips PBR, breaks the fourth wall and eats okra from a jar as she takes care of her momma, Bib (Jodie Beth Linver). Bib’s health and mind are failing and she doesn’t have much time. Wrapped in a shawl, Bib looks like the archetypal peasant, predominantly silent but for her goatish maaaaah. That Bib is such a simple character speaks measures to Linver’s performance, as she delights the audience with every comedic bleat. June casually converses with her goat family throughout the show and Alice seems shockingly nonplussed under the magically real circumstances. Do they look like goats? No — and it works.
Without going into the specifics of June’s and Alice’s backstories, it’s an incredibly engaging narrative that demands all of your emotions in equal portions. This play benefits from every moment of Maggie Lou Rader’s (June) and Kelly Mengelkoch’s (Alice) inspired performances. June’s visceral outbursts are startling, even if you’re seated in the back row. The complexities haunting Alice are so relatable that anyone could find something of themselves in Alabaster. We’re all somewhere between a phase of mourning for someone and it’s inevitable, sad to say, that if you love someone, you’ll either lose them or they’ll lose you. Despite its heavy themes, Alabaster gives you hope as it demonstrates how these women navigate their own grief and face tomorrow.
The set is bisected with June’s bedroom on stage left. The imposing wooden walls give you the feeling that if you were in her room, you’d be fortified against all human contact. Her bed is next to the window, its sill a favorite snacking spot of Weezy and Bib, who live under a corrugated steel lean-to on stage right. The backdrop looks like a barn being torn apart in the middle of a tornado, giving a sense that this might be a fantastical realm in stark opposition to June’s room, which is orderly save for the stacks of folksy paintings made on scrap wood. A good theatrical set is its own character and the production team’s thoughtful interpretation is a highlight of the show.
It’s always a good idea to arrive at the theater early, even more so with Know Theatre’s production of Alabaster thanks to Evelyn Sosa Rojas’s portrait photography on display out by the bar. Presented by Jens G. Rosenkrantz Jr. of Pendleton Street Photography, the dreamy black and white images depict women from Havana, Cuba in natural poses, starkly lit and entrancingly framed. (Read more about it in Mackenzie Manley’s interview with the curator.)
Alabaster was nominated for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and is a joy on the stage. The skill director Lisa Sanaye Dring displays is highly evident as you see the story progress. Between peals of laughter there were more than a few sniffles in the audience — and I don’t think it had anything to do with the flu.
The remaining performances of Alabaster have been canceled. More info/tickets: knowtheatre.com.