The Photo is about an hour long. I’m glad that it wasn’t longer because I was so worried about the characters that I could hardly breathe.
Elena Porter and Michael Peng stagger separately onto the stage, not quite aware of each other. At first they both seem shocked by something that’s just happened, but their responses are different enough that the nature of the awful thing wasn’t immediately clear to me. But the basic sad event is clarified quickly, so that one character seems to be grieving in a conventionally comprehensible way and the other is alarmingly detached from reality. I did keep wondering in the back of my mind whether I was wrong, or whether more horrible details would come out later, but I was relieved to have my guess confirmed, and could then watch the couple cope and connect.
I don’t think I’ve seen Michael Peng and Elena Porter on stage together before, but I’ve seen both of them in challenging roles in dark or painful stories – Peng in An Accident and in The Kite Runner, Porter in The Three Sisters and in The Clean House. And they were both good in The Photo. Peng’s thin-lipped quiet background anguish and Porter’s sparkling surface cheer over pain suited the roles well. The script provided enough resolution that I could breathe again, and I felt as if the two characters were beginning to understand each other’s needs and would be able to take care of themselves and each other.
I do not have personal experience of the kind of loss experienced by the characters. I don’t think I’d recommend this play to someone who has, without offering to warn him or her, but on the other hand without knowing what to expect I found the initial scene disturbingly effective, and I don’t want to spoil that for anyone else.
The Photo is playing at C103 until May 23rd. It’s a Theatre of the New Heart production, written by Dana Rayment and directed by Michelle Kennedy. Advance tickets are, of course, at Tix on the Square.