Theater Review: Kenny Finkle's Alive and Well Sets An Oil-And-Water Duo in a Civil War Re-Enactment

Invisible Theatre is continuing to try to woo us with romantic stories, and although their season's first show didn't inspire too much of the sweet stuff due to an inferior script, their second offering, Kenny Finkle's Alive and Well, is a much better script with a couple of winning characters embodied by two very good actors.

The story takes place in Virginia. The line goes like this: Cute but lonely Southern boy, Zachariah (Sean William Dupont) is escorting, in a most primitive way, a rather prissy journalist along a route favored by Civil War re-enactors leading to Appomattox, the scene of Lee's surrender. Dressed as a Union soldier, the uptight Yankee girl, Carla (Verity Stansall), with a British accent (which may or may not be real—she claims she's from England but is found to be untrustworthy in matters of self-representation) has been tapped to write an article for a magazine about the “Lonesome Soldier,” a phantom said to be sighted regularly along the re-enactment route. She is less than happy to be accompanied by Southern Boy, although it's hard to see why. He's a nice guy, not unintelligent, and is not overtly offensive. He's personable and warm, but she's more interested in what's happening at the ashram in Yogaville, a place in which she'd rather be ensconced, not hiking miles off-course in bad weather or indoors in a ragged cabin in even worse weather. Their journey is ours.

Mismatched pilgrims, they are. But like in so many other tales that use this convention of oil-and-water companions stuck in each other's company, their differences offer plenty of room for comedy and ultimately reveal that the ol' opposites attract theme is the current sweeping them along.

The script is far from brilliant, but it works well enough to entertain us as we watch the Civil War Re-enactment version of strange bedfellows. This is largely due to the acting skills of our two guides. Stansall's character is not the more immediately likeable one, so Finkle wisely inserts a scene in which she gets tipsy and quite literally lets her hair down. She's a wild woman when intoxicated and that softens us up a bit. Her boundaries snap back in place pretty quickly the next day—as much as anything can snap quickly when nursing a hangover.

Dupont's Zachariah is sort of a puppy dog with poetic leanings. He's quite open with his cold-shouldered companion; he keeps a journal, shares his woes regarding his ex-girlfriend—he has a tender streak and a bit of ambition as well. Of course, he also is prone to practicing his “bloat”—as in a soldier too long dead in the sun, which involves splaying oneself across a rock and taking in and holding as much breath as possible. He does have a talent for this, others have confirmed. Carla is not impressed.

You can see where we're headed, right? But not before a visit to Yogaville, painful complications and, finally, some soul-baring.

Stansall nails the Yankee superiority thing; I hope we see her on more Tucson stages. Dupont is very charismatic and reads quite credibly vulnerable, and this, of course, is irresistible. We'll be seeing more of him as well.

Director Susan Claassen has things well in hand to keep the re-enactment re-enacted well on IT's tiny stage. One thing I did miss, though. I never really felt a genuine attraction growing between our pilgrims. Perhaps Stansall needs to be more vulnerable a bit earlier. The game the two play to see who can one-up the other with insults seems to be the perfect spot where we should really begin to feel the heat. It just seems like the two aren't willing to let their guards down quite enough for this to feel real, even though they are a married couple in real life. Maybe they'll find that step in the dance as the run continues.

Although the story has been told many times, this is the first I've heard that sets its oil-and-water duo in a Civil War re-enactment. Alive and Well is a light, sweet dessert of a play. Get your spoons out.

Alive and Well
Presented by the Invisible Theatre
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday though Nov. 13
1400 N. First Ave.
Running time: about two hours including intermission; 882-9721