A little bit of Tennessee in Lannahassee

Amy M. Frateo, reviewer

Lynn Navarra’s style of writing is unique and engaging. Her play, Leaving Lannahassee, combined lyrical and even poetic phrasing with a working class veneer that guided a well-directed, expert cast.

The music continued beyond the dialogue with a manic John Lewis and simmering Stephen Wagner as two abandoned patients in a rehabilitation center that is as forgotten as they were. Lewis exuded an anger that was so real as to make his presence uncomfortable to the audience. Engaging artists who can summon genuine emotion are always enjoyable and even cathartic to behold. One could see that the men’s relationship was a tense mixture of desperation and friendship thanks to his and Wagner’s powerful acting. Wagner, leaving his thunder under the surface, contributed to making their exchanges highly engrossing.

Carol Beaugard as Mercy, proprietor of the Gateway Home & Rehabilitation Center, found the brilliance and irony in her character: brilliance in her struggle to maintain her own spiritual sanity and is by-product, and the irony of her name and how she herself needs… mercy… but sometimes has none.

15826856_10154218693423873_32296089234303222_nStanding at the forefront – all legs and arms and screeching voice – was Liz Meinders, as Brandy. Meinders employed an energetic persona that became a coping mechanism for her own traumatic life. It is this mechanism that seemed to entice Wagner’s JoJo, thus creating their own dysfunctional relationship.

Director Laurence C. Schwartz pulls double duty as the local lawman that finds himself attracted to Nurse Mercy; and Lucy Apicello, whose star turn seems to encapsulate the play’s message. Both actors gave a performance reminiscent of Tennessee Williams’ style characters. In fact, Schwartz’ directing style and tempo of the play was very much like a Williams piece, making us think we are in a desolate atmosphere, while great pain and passion lie under the dry surface.

Navarra’s dialogue and plot progression add to the Williams feel with all characters in a permanent waiting mode, hoping for someone to save them, basically, from themselves.

Navarra is becoming a fixture at the venerable American Theatre of Actors with this being her second full-length (2+ hours) work there.

It’s nice to see powerful full-bodied drama making a comeback.

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