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Theater Review: Original Productions Theatre’s Empathetic ‘Bound for Albania’

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Theater Review: Original Productions Theatre’s Empathetic ‘Bound for Albania’Original Productions Theatre's 'Bound for Albania' - Photo by Jerri Shafer, JAMS Photography
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Johnrick Hole’s writing pinged my radar years ago, when a friend suggested I should see a reading at the Riffe Studio theaters (I believe it was CATCO adjacent in some way) of his short pieces and monologues. I was at once struck by his command of voices and deep love for people. He’s carried those strengths with him into longer, more ambitious work, including his relationship with Original Productions Theatre and director Donovan Johnson who brought his Elizabethan romp Shakespeare’s Bloody Deed to life and now brings us the world premiere of Bound for Albania

This sprawling play rooted in the current refugee crisis moves between three locations, many miles apart. 

In Columbus, Ohio, retired nurse Jill (Linda Goodwin) decides she wants to use her skills to make a more substantial impact on the world. A horrific internet photograph of a dead child she discusses with sister Bev (Joyce Leahy) and brother Charley (Jeff Grennell) lights the fuse for that change and trip to Albania, to the consternation of her children Stephen (Ryan Heitkamp) and Laura (Alyssa Ryan Calm). 

In Albania, kindly couple Ljud (Jim Cummins) and Marta (Leslie Robinson) remember being refugees and the horrific treatment of Albanians in neighboring areas like Kosovo as well as during WWII and have devoted their lives to helping supply comfort for the similarly afflicted. We first meet Ianame (Allison Leonard) in Syria and she takes refuge with Ljud and Marta, meeting Murad (Bradford Sadler). 

The language in Bound for Albania is often breathtaking. Some of the best moments in the play come in tumbling, glittering soliloquies, especially from Leonard’s Ianame, Cummins’ Ljud, and Goodwin’s Jill. With so much ground to cover – and so much grounding for its audience – it does occasionally slip into info-dumps.  

The ways it works around that are only intermittently successful. I found the direct addresses to the audience surprising and intriguing, a clever way of implicating us in the systems that cause so much harm and trouble, and which don’t have a direct personification on the stage. The cinematic-style techniques of cross cutting between locations didn’t work as well for me because so many short scenes led to scene changes which stopped the dramatic momentum as soon as it started to build.  

Original Productions Theatre’s ‘Bound for Albania’ – Photo by Jerri Shafer, JAMS Photography

It felt like the first act – in a long play, the night I went clocked in at two hours and five minutes with an intermission – had as much switching over as it did scene, which is an exaggeration but my definite impression. The very elegant set design from Stephanie Geckens, with three triangular platforms on each side of the stage that turn to reveal paintings and soak up projections, does a good job with some of the heavy lifting but it still felt distracting to have to reset so often. 

At the same time, despite the pleasures I got from the tension between these monologues bouncing off one another, I enjoyed my time with the characters so much I wanted to see those viewpoints spark against each other. There’s a fantastic party scene toward the end of the play; some delightfully bitchy set pieces where all of Jill’s family assembles, with some nice touches of physical comedy – Grennell’s Charley dropping his cane should be in a hall of fameCummins’ Ljud greeting Jill with an earnest talk about how much he loves going to the airport; but when the lights came up at intermission and the main character still hadn’t gotten to Albania, I found myself growing a little restless. 

Donovan Johnson’s direction leans into the long sequences of a single person talking and – along with some evocative lighting credited to the Abbey – stages many of the sequences to feel like renaissance paintings or Dutch Golden Age portraits. The best parts of Bound for Albania are born in the arresting beauty of these stagings and the complete trust of the actors and the words. 

My experience with the play was a mixed bag but I was glad I saw Bound for Albania. It’s always a pleasure to see new, local work as engaged with the world and the moment as this play is, and to see new work get such a lush, sympathetic production. 

Bound for Albania runs through November 14 at the Abbey Theatre of Dublin, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and more information, visit optheater.com.

Original Productions Theatre’s ‘Bound for Albania’ – Photo by Jerri Shafer, JAMS Photography
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