A self-described experiment of sorts, Lark Eden, by Natalie Symons, is Aurora Theatre’s latest production. The epistolary play, which has been produced as reader’s theater before this one, explores the friendship of three women from childhood in Lark Eden, Ga. to the their golden years.
While the format of the story is typically seen in literature rather than the stage, the play uses the letters between the women as the dialogue, stating with school notes to letters between them as adults. Under the skillful direction of Melissa Foulger, each of the actresses does a remarkable job at presenting the text as if it were conversation between the characters. The staging couldn’t have been any better.
The play starts with an elder Emily, markedly played by Naima Carter Russell, describing Lark Eden and her two life-long friends. She says, “The place I remember is strengthened only by the memory of them.” Throughout the course of the play, the audience sees, but more importantly feels, just how true that statement is.
Minka Wiltz, as Thelma, provides some the most captivating moments of the story. One of Atlanta’s best actresses, she presents the prim and proper character with ease. Her strongest moment is the scene where she is mourning the loss of her son. Rachel Garner, as the rebellious and free spirited Mary, gives a memorable performance with subtle emotions. Likewise, Russell mines emotional depths of a character whose life has been filled with disappointments.
With a wonderful set by Lizz Dorsey, sound design by Angie Bryant, and lighting design by Mary Parker, the production value of the play is wonderful. The performances, while constrained by the script’s structure, create a visual that harkens to something from Fannie Flagg or Flannery O’Conner.
As a play, Lark Eden is hampered by the format. The epistolary narrative holds back a deeper exploration of the characters and their experiences. Moments such as the one with Wiltz are cut short to switch to another monologue by one of the other ladies, keeping the audience from fully getting lost in the emotion with the character. However, these quick changes keep the play moving, and its two hour running time sans intermission never becomes cumbersome.
The weaknesses aside, Lark Eden is a production worth seeing, and it most likely will connect with women and men of all ages due to the strength of the concept: the power of friendship. That idea makes it connect with audiences, and it is something both sexes can relate to.
Lark Eden plays at Aurora Theatre through May 26, 2013. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website.
– A. Wesley