Ties that Bind

With its small cast, minimal technical requirements, and heart-stopping storyline, Up, Down, Strange, Charmed, Beauty, and Truth makes a great Fringe show. In this fast-paced, 45-minute one act, a pair of teenage sisters struggles to escape their drug-addled mother with help from a favorite uncle. Through a series of wholly organic yet startlingly unexpected plot twists, by the end of the play nothing – not the characters, not their situations – is how it seemed when the play began. Up, Down…, written by veteran off-Broadway playwright Edward Allen Baker, is receiving a well-deserved reprisal by casa 204 productions after premiering at the Ensemble Studio Theatre’s annual one-act marathon eight years ago.

After short-work festivals, stellar new plays like Up, Down… can have a difficult time finding appropriate venues for subsequent productions outside of acting classes, where the scripts live on as teaching tools. So it’s good to see it find a home at the Fringe Festival alongside premiers and work in early stages of development.

Director Diana Basmajian ably sustains the play's brisk pace and the three-member cast brings nice energy, if inconsistent working-class East Providence accents, to their portrayal of the characters. Linnea Wilson and Megan Hart maintain a believable sisterly rapport, while Greg Drozdek nails complicated Uncle Danny’s self-perception as a down-on-his-luck funny man.

Costume designer Lynn Wheeler provides instant insight into Uncle Danny as a working-class man living alone and into little sister Marley as an honor student from the wrong side of the tracks. Wheeler has less success with Steph, whose white tanktop and neat ponytail don’t convey what should be a disheveled appearance.

According to its press release, casa 204 productions aims to produce work featuring “characters and narratives that are not commonly seen on stage in order to bring a broader and deeper definition of humanity to contemporary American stage.” Given that mission, Up, Down… is a curious choice; there is no dearth of American drama about scrappy, blue-collar families desperate to improve their lot. As a quintessential example of that genre, however, Up, Down… is an arresting production.

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