Evolution’s ‘Traveling’ is a Warm Look at Life’s Last Days
Evolution Theatre Company continues their season with a strong, delicate world premiere of Kenneth Talbert’s Traveling directed by Dee Shepherd.
Traveling focuses on the last days of acclaimed dancer and choreographer Winston Lambert (Mark Phillips Schwamberger). He takes what comfort he can in his much younger lover Tyler (Nick Hardin), as we see his comfort in being catered to and his uneasiness needing it. A spectral embodiment of his past glories, a mute, lithe dancer (Tony White) haunts Winston. The frail man projects the state of his life on this shimmying shape, “too fast” and uncontrollable.
The more tangible x-factor comes with Winston’s old friend Benjamin Cain (David Vargo). Tyler rapidly regrets the kind gesture of reuniting the old friends as he scrambles to find his footing with someone who knows his lover better than he’ll ever have the chance to.
In many ways, Traveling is Talberth’s first produced play. It feels stuffed even at a brisk less than two-hour run-time. It reverberates with the desire to hit every corner of the playwright’s knowledge of the relationships. What saves it and makes it fresh is the earnest affection it has for all three of its characters. In the same way, it has found a perfectly sympathetic director in Dee Shepherd. She understands the play works best as a paper lantern, lit by warmth between the people inside. She subtly downplays the rough edges but doesn’t sand them down, she gives every piece of this room to breathe.
The actors, too, make this material sing. Nick Hardin’s Tyler can be petulant and annoying but in a way the audience recognizes as the annoying petulance of youth. His character’s confusion comes off tangible and palpable. His desire to create “new” experiences with someone 40 years ahead in that category is adorably sweet and even more adorably dumb. David Vargo continues his astonishing year on stage. Vargo conjures another home run with the laconic realist Benjamin Cain; laid-back but always with a razor in his mouth he doesn’t want to use. Mark Phillips Schwamberger gets the glee and keen intelligence of someone like Winston. His frustration as once-effortless grace used fails is wrenching and his determination to not lose himself in the cloud of sickness is the emotional through-line of the piece.
The icing on this production is Evolution taking the extra step of commissioning original music by Russell Boiarsky and choreography by Tony White. White’s striking choreography and dancing stands on its own even as it reveals a deep understanding of Winston’s psychology. Boiarsky has crafted music that throbs, studded with hints of the baroque that Shepherd’s direction uses to establish or undercut textures but never in a Mickey Mouse way.
Traveling isn’t a perfect play. The surprises come from nuance and texture more than action or novelty. But it’s lovely, and I left glad to have spent time with those characters and glad for exposure to a voice I hadn’t heard before and very much want to hear again. Columbus is lucky to have companies taking risks on new work and this is a prime example of the payoff we can get from those risks.
Traveling runs through October 7 with performances Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. Sunday October 1. For tickets and more info, visit evolutiontheatre.org.