The Purple Rose Theatre Company continues its 2011/12 Season with A Stone Carver, William Mastrosimone’s forceful story about a stonemason who measures the value of everything according to old-world standards, including his hard-working but future-focused son.
Artistic Director Guy Sanville makes a much-anticipated return to the stage as Agostino Malatesta, a Sicilian-born stone carver. Agostino is barricaded in his condemned house in defiance of the state’s orders to vacate and make room for the new highway construction project. Sanville gives us a man who thinks, and often speaks, in Italian. His rough hands know how to find the angel in a block of limestone … pick a tomato at the precise moment it turns ripe … and turn grapes into heady grappa. Agostino is angry. Angry at people who go on living even though his beloved wife is dead. Angry at a world that has forgotten the values he cherished. Angry at the son who seems to thrive without Agostino’s advice. Sanville makes you feel the heat of that anger. There were a few uncomfortable moments when I wished I were sitting a few rows further back from the stage. He’s that good.
Matthew David is his son, Raff, who must convince Agostino to leave before the bulldozers move in. David is always fun to watch, and in this drama we see in his face, in his body language, in the way his voice changes pitch, that he has battled Agostino his entire life.
And yet … even when he is provoked by his father to put on boxing gloves and repeat a detested childhood ritual … even when the two men give vent to years of anger in the most physical means imaginable … there is no doubt that they love each other. Their love is as real and as solid as the stone angel who stands witness throughout the play.
Also bearing witness is Raff’s fiancée Janice, played by PRTC veteran Charlyn Swarthout. She is an unlikely go-between, and Swarthout is wonderful in the role. When Agostino treats her rudely and seethes at her without provocation, Swarthout lets us believe that she is too fragile to endure the relationship. But when she finds her courage, and sees in the older man what she loves in the younger, she unlocks the secret to Agostino’s beautiful stone angels. And that makes reconciliation, and even redemption, possible.
Sanville says of the play, ‘It’s the stuff of a lot of great drama: the idea that sons are always trying to measure up to their father’s notion of what it means to be a man, that moment in a father’s life when he has to try to accept the man the boy has become, the sense that there is always something unfinished in the relationship. It’s a story that just about every father and son can relate to.’
A Stone Carver marks the professional directing debut of PRTC veteran Rhiannon Raglan. It is a tight, compelling show without wasted motion or indulgent sentimentality and Raglan is to be congratulated.
This production leaves us with a valuable lesson: to embrace, we must sometimes let go.
The PRTC production of A Stone Carver runs through March 10, 2012. Regular performances for the duration of the run are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 3:00 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. There will be two matinees performed for students at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, February 7 and Tuesday, March 6. Tickets are available by calling or stopping by the Box Office at (734) 433-ROSE (7673) or online. Box Office hours are Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.