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Crossing Never Leaves the Station – Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
November 5, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

A quiet train station becomes a place of little miracles in Crossing - Photo by Teresa Wood.

A quiet train station becomes a place of little miracles in Crossing – Photo by Teresa Wood.

In the world premiere of Matt Conner’s play Crossing eight people wait at a weathered wood train station.  The strangers come from different decades of the past century to share their stories of hope, disillusionment and missed opportunities.  The characters are not given names but are loosely defined as Backpacker – 2013, Wealthy Man – 1929, Mother – 1917, Soldier – 1917, Woman with Flowers – 1977, Unknown Woman, Civil Rights Marcher – 1963, Woman in Pink – 1954, Child – 1954.  If you’re counting, that’s nine of course.  The Unknown Woman, who appears a bit later, seems to be an avatar for hope and change, as in each one hopes the train’s arrival will somehow change their lives.  “The easiest journey starts with a small step,” we are reminded.

The Civil Rights Marcher (Ines Nassara) waits on her train in Crossing - Photo by Teresa Wood.

The Civil Rights Marcher (Ines Nassara) waits on her train in Crossing – Photo by Teresa Wood.

“Here I Am” is the opening number, a sort of anthem to self-actualization that aims to inspire the traveler, “to seek, to strive, to find, to seek a newer world.”  High hopes.  There is an undercurrent of American patriotism interwoven throughout the lyrics as well as the immediacy of each individual’s situation.  Should the Civil Rights Marcher go to Selma?  Should the Wealthy Man break free?  “Without my money, who am I?” he queries.  Should the Woman with Flowers take back her daughter who’s run off with the Jim Jones’ People’s Temple?  Will the Woman in Pink ever get on a train to anywhere?  Each has a step to take – – a life lesson to resolve as they wait for the train to pull in to the station.

The Woman with Flowers (Florence Lacey) anticipates the return of her estranged daughter in Crossing - Photo by Teresa Wood.

The Woman with Flowers (Florence Lacey) anticipates the return of her estranged daughter in Crossing
– Photo by Teresa Wood.

In the number, “Someone, Something, Somewhere” the ensemble seems to agree,   “I’m not looking behind.  I’m taking what’s mine.”

There is a lot of wishing and hoping and planning and scheming in this set piece.  “If you’re tired or hungry or scared, keep going!” the Unknown Woman urges the Civil Rights Marcher, who struggles to believe she alone can make a difference.  Unfortunately many lyrics are repetitive, patriotism is a handy conceit, and dreams are ultimately unfulfilled.  “Life is just a distraction from Death,” the Wealthy Man decrees.  The only hopeful traveler is the Backpacker (Christopher Mueller) who is not hampered by existentialist questions, but is eager to explore the world and seize love where he finds it.

A reappearing butterfly suggested by a spot of orange light on the stage floor becomes a metaphor for freedom and change.  But no one appears to be changing or getting liberated.  Hoped for love connections are dashed and sage advice is not taken.   “If only I were braver – – younger,” the ensemble sings.  Ultimately the only happy camper is the Backpacker.

The Woman in Pink (Tracy Lynn Olivera, left) meets the Soldier (Austin Colby) in Crossing - Photo by Teresa Wood.

The Woman in Pink (Tracy Lynn Olivera, left) meets the Soldier (Austin Colby) in Crossing – Photo by Teresa Wood.

The cast is the bravest element in a show that needs cheering up.  Thankfully Christopher Mueller displays the passion and energy to keep the play’s grim reaper in check, while Tracy Lynn Olivera as the Woman in Pink affords us a tender portrayal of a woman who cannot bring herself to commit to a happy future.  Nova Y. Payton plays the Unknown Woman, a beacon of light for all the weary travelers in the world.  Her spectacular delivery in the reverential solo number “After the Rain”, in which she urges the strangers to find their life’s path, and then a cappella gospel song “Follow the Drinking Gourd”, make you wish you had sat in her train car the entire trip.

The Unknown Woman (Nova Y. Payton) endows the train station with a touch of magic in Crossing -  Photo by Teresa Wood.

The Unknown Woman (Nova Y. Payton) endows the train station with a touch of magic in Crossing – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Through November 24th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.

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