In this world premier of Ann Timmons’ “A Very Present Presence,” we meet a middle-aged mother and career woman who has come to the end of her rope. The story may seem similar to many others (for those of a certain age, I was reminded of an episode of “One Day At A Time” from about 45 years ago), but is given a fresh spark by linking the present day to the lives of her great-grandmother and great-aunt.
. . . a fun, light-hearted look at sea changes in oneself and society at large.
Alice (a nicely calibrated Jennifer Pagnard) is frazzled. She has always lived her life as she was taught as a girl — to always give your best, work hard, and behave appropriately in all circumstances. But the endless expectations have exhausted her. She has finally realized that she’s not only unhappy, but unfulfilled and discontented. Given her strained relationships with her children, Lenny (Nicholas-Tyler Corbin) and Bets (Erin Denman), she decides to take a time out.
It turns out her great-aunt Nell (a luminous Diane Cooper-Gould) is waiting for her. She longs to put some old matters right and to help her great-niece sort herself out in ways she had been unable to do with her sister, Alberta (Denman). What is also pleasurable is, that along the way, Nell learns some truths too and is able to move on to a new role in the afterlife (I think that would be a very funny play). Nell evidently hasn’t used much of her time in the afterlife to mellow out.
Over the course of the play, we take a quick tour of much of the 20th century as seen through women’s eyes. The play touches on women’s suffrage, the rights of women, the expectations that society too often places on women (particularly when relationships are involved), and also about how we cannot control what another does or thinks. Sometimes we just have to love them and trust them.
The play is directed by Catherine Tripp and she keeps the action lively. The play doesn’t break new ground, but it does offer hope that scales can fall from eyes and still allow us to embrace the messiness of family while nudging them to find progress in their own ways.
All four actors do a lovely job; of particular note are Diane Cooper-Gould as Nell and Erin Denman as Bets/Alberta/Man 1. Gould allows her character to grow, and to take responsibility for her own missteps, particularly with her sister Alberta. Denman is appropriately snarky and vulnerable as a young woman just starting out, but it’s her portrayal of the great-grandmother Alberta that is most moving and very realistic.
This is a comfortable, known quantity of a type of kitchen-sink drama, enlivened with ghosts, time travel (the scene where Alberta and Alice meet is rife for being portrayed as slapstick on a stage), and women’s rights marches. It also shows the wisdom of questioning tradition and letting each generation decide what to keep and what no longer works. “Very Present Presence” is a fun, light-hearted look at sea changes in oneself and society at large.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes without intermission.
Show Advisory: Some adult language; alcohol.
“A Very Present Presence” runs through June 16, 2021. This production is pre-recorded and presented virtually through on-demand streaming by Pipeline Playwrights in Alexandria, VA. For more information, please click here.