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The Gulf ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
September 29, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

(l-r) Kendra (Maria Rizzo) ~ Betty (Rachel Zampelli) - Photo Credit: Margot Schulman

(l-r) Kendra (Maria Rizzo) ~ Betty (Rachel Zampelli) – Photo Credit: Margot Schulman

Signature Theatre’s The Ark offers the perfect frame for DC playwright Audrey Cefaly’s world premiere of The Gulf, directed by the theatre’s Director of New Works, Joe Calarco.

A revealing existentialist exercise in the power and destruction of love, this intimate play is set in the Alabama Delta and features two lovers, Betty and Kendra, who become stranded in their small motorboat in the shallows of Alabama’s Dog River.

Kendra (Maria Rizzo) has separation issues.  Her father was her mentor and since his death she suffers from fear of desertion.  She cannot admit she is hopelessly in love for fear of loss.  Her lover Betty (Rachel Zampelli) wants commitment defined as a career, marriage to Kendra, a home, and eventually children.  She tries to get Kendra interested in fulfilling her potential by reading her “What Color is Your Parachute”, a self-help book on careers.  But Kendra, a fatalist, has no such ambitions.  She is content to fish on her off hours and work at the local sewage plant, ignoring Betty’s lofty aspirations and punishing her by withholding sex.  “I want you to stop thinking,” she tells Betty.  “Cuz when you’re thinking, I’m miserable!”

(l-r) Betty (Rachel Zampelli) ~ Kendra (Maria Rizzo) - Photo Credit: Margot Schulman

(l-r) Betty (Rachel Zampelli) ~ Kendra (Maria Rizzo) – Photo Credit: Margot Schulman

The couple alternately argue and reconcile in a macabre merry-go-round, accepting that they will never agree on just about anything, but are too emotionally tied to each other to part ways.  Passions and jealousies ignite accusations and retribution with dialogue as vitriolic and vicious as George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf”.  “Nothing’s good enough for you,” says Kendra.  “You just want to rearrange my life.”

The humor is part deadpan, part caustic with massive doses of wry, Southern zingers.  Rizzo and Zampelli offer up flawless and funny performances coupled with skillful pacing and brisk patter.

Sound Designer Kenny Neal chooses Delta Blues to set the tone and Aretha Franklin as background to the lovers’ Mardi Gras reminiscences of meeting at a honky-tonk bar, while Scenic Designer Paige Hathaway provides a slow-turning, skeletal motor boat as metaphor for the couple’s maneuvering along the rocky coast of love.

Funny, cerebral and edgy.

Through November 6th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.sigtheatre.org.

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