As the lights come back on in the tiny black box, I blink and stand, waiting to shuffle out of the theater.
Once we get outside, Barry and I start discussing the biggest problem with Urbanite's production of Henry Naylor's Echoes.
There's nothing to criticize.
"I could say the seats were uncomfortable," I offer.
"The whole thing was just... excellent," he says. And he's right. Even almost a week later, I can't think of one thing I would change. In the whole of my life, including shows on Broadway, I've yet to be able to say this about a production.
Kate Berg plays Tille, a 18th-century woman who seeks love — and adventure — by leaving England and finding a husband in Afghanistan. Of course, the Brits really were terrible assholes to the Afghans and her British Raj husband is no better — to her or the locals. She finds herself empathizing with the locals and hating the Brits. Mari Via-Golden plays Samira, a present-day Muslim woman living in the UK who also hopes to find love elsewhere — and marries an ISIS fighter. Her spirituality makes it hard for her to get behind the acts based on the ISIS interpretation of the Muslim faith, and, well, things fall apart.
For both women.
Echoes has a lot to unpack: Feminism, xenophobia, humanity — all three themes swirl together as the two women take their turns telling their stories on a sparse stage. Other than a few personal props, these two talented actresses make you feel the grittiness of their realities and break your heart with the decisions that, by the play's end, you realize they have not choice but to make.
I'm not a fan of summarizing plays for people, so know this: The story has a good dose of history but Urbanite makes sure you know what you need to know with projections that take place before the show begins, so get there early (also, the seating's first-come, first-serve, and it's really selling well, so the best seats go quickly). There's no excuse for not seeing Echoes. If I wanted to pick — and really, really pick — I'd wonder if we didn't have the talent locally (Berg and Vial-Golden hail from New York). I called director Brendan Ragan and asked and he explained thusly:
"We audition actors from all over the country. We do locals, then we go to the Florida Professional Theater Association — about 300 actors go to that each year — and then we go to New York and audition about 100 invited actors. Overall, we see about 500-600 actors over the course of the audition season."
Other shows this season, including the upcoming Northside Hollow, will include local and non-local talent.
I can't wait.
Cathy Salustri is the arts & entertainment editor for Creative Loafing Tampa. Her book about a month-long road trip across Florida's backroads, Backroads of Paradise, is available at big box stores and online, but she'd prefer you buy it from a local bookseller. Follow her adventures at greatfloridaroadtrip.com, on Twitter, or on Facebook. She also has a personal website and an Instagram, which has mostly pictures of her dogs. Email her here.