“Tranquil” is the latest world premiere play at one of New Jersey’s finest development theatres, Luna Stage. Andrew Rosendorf’s latest work challenges the way we view people of different abilities than our own, and in a number of ways. We are all differently abled.
Cheryl Katz is masterful in her orchestration of her actors and our view. Ellen Schwartz (Brittany Anikka Liu) is a person who has suffered a tragic accident, but refuses to let her life be a tragedy. Her bestie Paul (Brendan McGrady) picks her up for their shifts at the local Walmart and her life has an enviable regularity. Her father Rick (Frank Licato) is an attorney who works to keep her spirits up and his job together, but the accident that took Ellen’s independent mobility and bound her to a wheelchair also took his wife. The agent of that accident was Aaron (Tony Knotts), who fled to New York City–far enough to try to escape his culpability. He was driving when the accident occurred and he has his own challenges with the life he’s tried to make to come to terms with his guilt and his loss. Returning home for Rick’s father’s funeral, Aaron must confront the loss of his grandfather, as well as determine how he can move forward as a son who loves his sister and his dad.
This brilliant play gives us an idea of how off-kilter the world of “Tranquil” will be from the moment we see Christopher and Justin Swader’s set. It’s a normal home, adapted for Ellen’s new circumstance. However, there are walls that we don’t see that the actors define and the action is very cinematic in feel. Daisy Long’s lighting design helps convey the spaces that are impossible to create in black box spaces and the feel of breadth, distance, and depth comes through in abundance.
Liu’s Ellen is a vivacious late teen whose joie de vivre is a burbling stream of recognizing what she has, rather than dwelling on what she’s lost. That said, she’s like any woman on the nascence of her adulthood–she desires experience and connection. McGrady’s Paul is the gentle man every parent would wish for in a friend or partner for their daughter. McGrady gives us the male counterpart of the coltish young man who loves and respects women and there is little that is sexier than that. He’s a long-haul guy.
The relationships among each of the players are so strong. Ellen’s love for her brother Aaron and Knotts’ angst and self-mortification often vie for supremacy. She’s willing to take him as he is, and he still sees her, initially at least, as the young woman he left behind when he fled to the Big City. He learns a great deal about himself and his “new” sister and it is jarring, arresting, and deeply affecting to watch.
Licato’s Frank is walking carefully in a delicate balancing act that pits his job against his family and his psyche against his sense of responsibility. He is a master of his craft, with forgiveness lurking just below the surface of his façade of gruffness with his son, but will they break through to one another before it’s too late? You’ll have to see this play of beautiful moments to find out.
“Tranquil” is playing in West Orange, New Jersey through May 13. See something new, experience the now, get your tickets today, and visit www.lunastage.org