BUCKEYE, the newest play by Elizabeth A. Harris, is one of those kinds of plays. Produced by Cincinnati LAB Productions as their first fully staged work, this drama is a nice way to begin.
It’s not perfect; but I don’t think its quite done yet. In it, she tells the story of “Anna” (Leah Strasser), a woman just back from the Iraq War. She is also a brand new mother. Through the use of lights and creative entrances and exits, we move between 2006 and 2022. We find out early that Anna has shot herself and her daughter “Lucy” is trying to understand what happened by talking with her mother’s friend, landlord, and a Vietnam vet himself, “Bob”.
Strasser gets a lot of work and its no wonder why; she’s got a dynamite presence on stage especially when she’s playing complex, dramatic characters. A woman with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, suffering from psychotic hallucinations, and acute paranoia certainly fits the bill. But Strasser never takes her over the top; nor does Harris’s authentic script.
We learn through the dialogue that Anna has lost custody of Lucy to her brother. We learn that she has a gun and we learn that she sees and interacts with “Jack,” Lucy’s father, even though he died in the war. All of this is very sad, though there are some funny moments sprinkled throughout.
I can vouch for the authenticity of the issues portrayed here; not only am I professional counselor for my day job, but one of my closest friends works with veterans in the same situation Anna finds herself. Her story is not unique; it happens often that someone experiences so much violent trauma that they come home with all sorts of mental health issues. Anna’s story broke my heart.
Some of the best moments come when 13-year-old Lucy asks her mother to come to her birthday party. “I’m not like other moms,” Anna says. “But you’re my mom,” retorts Lucy and my heart got stuck in my throat. All this young girl wants is to connect with her mother; but unfortunately her mom has lost the ability to do so because of her crippling anxiety. And as hard as Bob tries, even he struggles to connect with her despite their similar military history. It’s not until they share a love of Buckeyes, those chocolate and peanut butter candies, that they find some common ground. After all, as Bob says, “You take connection where you find it.”
Bob Allen plays “Bob” with the professionalism and charisma we’ve come to expect. Brian Berendts has good chemistry with Strasser; I believed they had been a couple and his voiceover work at the end was fantastic. Kayleigh Howland plays “Lucy,” and shines the most when she’s playing the 13-year-old version.
We find out very early what happened to Anna; its a tragic story from the outset. Yet, somehow I still found myself rooting for her. Credit the wonderfully eloquent, poetic monologues and Strasser’s charm for that. The ending was a little flat, but I think there’s 70 minutes of a tremendous 90 minute play here. Kudos to Harris and company on their first outing and I look forward to seeing what’s next!
BUCKEYE has one more performance tonight at 8 PM at Falcon Theatre in Newport, KY. Here’s a link to their FaceBook page.