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A dreamy production

Charlene Baldridge | Theater Review

“The flying felt like God loved me,” Zoe says in Georgette Kelly’s “Ballast.” The unique play, directed in its world premiere by Diversionary Theater Executive Artistic Director Matt M. Morrow, is acted upon Ron Logan’s set, quite likely the most beautiful set ever created for this theater.

Lovers of beauty, poetry and whimsy must see the work before it closes June 4.

“Ballast” takes on the challenges of gender identity. (Courtesy of Diversionary Theatre)

“Ballast” is unique in its construction, for it draws upon the dreams of its four principal characters. The dreams, scenes and dialogue spew forth as if one took their individual mid-night odysseys and randomly mixed them up, the fragments eventually coalescing into a poignant whole, rife with unrequited longing. Particularly in the case of the married Grace (attractive redhead Dana Aliya Levinson) and Zoe (beloved San Diego actor Jacque Wilke), each wants what the other cannot give, namely to return the marriage to the way it started out.

Originally theirs was a marriage between a woman, Zoe, and a man, now Grace, who was and still is a Protestant minister, at least until her denomination makes a ruling. Now that he has transitioned into a woman, continuing as clergy is uncertain for Grace, and try as she might the loving and supportive Zoe — who says, “My one is two now” — can’t help feeling that the man she loved is gone forever.

“Ballast” plays through June 1 at Diversionary Theatre.

The other couple comprises Xavier (Maxton Miles Baeza) and Savannah (Jennifer Paredes). They have known each other since kindergarten, so know each other extremely well. They purport to be 21 but in actuality they are only 15. Xavier, born a girl, identifies as a young man, something that concerns his mother Savannah a great deal. She accepts Xavier as he is, and wants only his love.

Dana Case and Skyler Sullivan portray all the people in both couples’ lives; among them Zoe’s flying instructor, Grace’s bishop and Xavier’s mother. Both are extremely effective and seem to have a blast doing multiple characters. When Grace takes in the runaway Xavier, some of the play’s funniest and most cohesive scenes occur. But mostly, it’s all glorious flying towards an upliftingly poetic conclusion.

Logan’s lovely set, as befits flying, is blue. The simplest of elements contribute to the astonishingly beautiful effect, a maypole of ropes played upon effectively by Sherrice Mojgani’s lighting and several draped shapes center stage that morph into everything else. Elisa Benzoni creates imaginative costumes and Emily Janowski is the sound designer, a veritable whoosh queen of the cosmos.

Under Morrow’s leadership, Diversionary is on an upward trajectory where productions just get better and better. The transgender subject matter in “Ballast” is just one example of how timely and cutting-edge theater can be. Playwright Kelly, who operates in both Chicago and New York, is definitely one to watch.

—Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. Follow her blog at charlenecriticism.blogspot.com or reach her at charb81@gmail.com.

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