Swimming with Jellyfish – An Atlanta Theater Fans Review

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Swimming with Jellyfish at Atlanta's Essential Theatre Festival

Ann Wilson, Matt Busch, Audra Pagano and James Baskin in Swimming with Jellyfish. Photo by Nancy Johnson

In the suburbs people live in cookie cutter homes and seemingly live cookie cutter lives. But what kind of a toll can this type of regimented existence take on a family? Katie Grant Shalin’s play Swimming with Jellyfish, featured at The Essential Theatre Festival, explores this idea.

On the surface they are a typical suburban Atlanta family – Jim (James Baskin) works at a law firm while Lily (Ann Wilson) plays the role of homemaker and civic group leader. Inside the walls of the home, the family is struggling to keep it together. The children have secrets and the parents have secrets that threaten to unravel all that the family has known.

As the couple Baskin and Wilson have a wonderful chemistry together. While Baskin gives a solid performance as Jim, its Wilson who truly shines. She subtly brings Lily’s fragile emotions to the surface while balancing it with the character’s need for control and order. She is heartbreaking at times and clearly the star of the show.

Jim and Lily’s son Paul (Matt Busch) is just out of college and living back at home while their daughter Gillian (Audra Pagano) is just about to begin college. Both Busch and Pagano present believable siblings and play off each other well.

While providing many moments of humor, Shalin’s dialogue at times feels unnatural. Part of the fault lies with the script, but at times it is the delivery by the cast that cause the words to feel forced. Her narrative, however, holds together well giving the scenes a quick pace and a natural flow.

A gripping drama about a couple on the edge, Swimming with Jellyfish, under the direction of Bill Murphey, paints a bittersweet portrait of a family trying to survive. The play is entertaining with a good balance of comedy and seriousness.

Held at Actor’s Express, The Essential Theatre Festival runs through August 11, 2013 with Stray Dogs, Mysterious Connections and Swimming with Jellyfish playing in repertory. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. Swimming with Jellyfish’s runtime is about two hours with an intermission.

– A. Wesley