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Think about the place where you grew up. Maybe it was idyllic. Maybe you couldn’t wait to get out. Nowadays, do you look at your hometown (or neighborhood) through rose-colored glasses, or do you see the scabs? If it has changed, do you think that’s good or bad? Is it still home, or are you over it? Sometimes it’s hard to get perspective on the places where we grew up if we never left—or if we couldn’t wait to leave. The tension between these two experiences is at the core of Azuka’s world-premiere of Carroll County Fix.
Playwright Val Dunn sets Carroll County Fix in the eponymous Maryland county, just over the state line from Pennsylvania and less than an hour from Baltimore. Jack McManus’s set makes it clear that we are not on the cute main street of a small town. We are, in fact, in a Walmart parking lot, and the big box store’s sun logo hangs like a celestial body over the set. It feels familiar, this set—like a thousand other Walmart parking lots—and perhaps, for some in the audience, the story itself feels familiar, too.
Coming together, growing apart
The action of the play follows Tess (Lorenza Bernasconi), a young, aspiring filmmaker who is hoping her current project will get her a scholarship at NYU, far (enough) away from Carroll County. Her best friend and artistic collaborator, Rach (Anna Faye Lieberman) is back from college for summer break, staying with her mom and stepdad, Paul (Steven Anthony Wright), and the two plan to finish what they started before Rach went away: a documentary about their hometown, which has been ravaged by the opioid crisis and transformed, in some places beyond recognition, by suburban sprawl.
Tess and Rach are as enthusiastic and optimistic as one would expect of two young women their age, and are also feeling, for the first time, the metaphorical distance that emerges when close childhood friends move away from each other. Bernasconi and Lieberman seamlessly swing from ebullient to angry in a way that feels authentic to both their characters’ ages and circumstances. As they grow further apart, your heart breaks for them; at the same time, you know Tess and Rach are going to be all right in the end.
We also meet Crash (Paige Whitman), a city-dweller we quickly realize is romantically involved with Rach. Tess treats Crash with coolness, we soon understand, because she sees the budding romance between Crash and Rach as a threat to her own relationship with her best friend. Crash, meanwhile, is desperate for Tess’s approval.
Rounding out the young folks in the cast is Stinky Pete (Adam Howard), who spends his days in the Walmart parking lot for lack of anything better to do. He initially seems something of a town fool, but there’s more to him as the story unfolds. And a scene between Crash and Pete on a cannabis-fueled trip inside the Walmart, underscored by Blake Shelton’s “Boys Round Here,” is a highlight of the show.
The point of imperfection
Carroll County Fix is plagued by the same problem that many new plays face: it doesn’t quite feel finished. There are some moments that could be tightened up, some comments that could be further unpacked. The story is good, the characters are relatable; it just needs some polish.
But then maybe that’s the whole point of Carroll County Fix. Nothing is ever as perfect as you wish it could be, and sometimes there’s comfort in the roughness.
What, When, Where
Carroll County Fix. By Val Dunn. Directed by Priyanka Shetty. Pay what you decide (advance registration recommended). Through March 20, 2022, at the Proscenium Theatre at the Drake, 302 S. Hicks Street, Philadelphia. (215) 563-1100 or azukatheatre.org.
Proof of Covid-19 vaccination and a valid ID are required to attend, and guests must remain masked throughout the show.
The Proscenium Theatre at the Drake is a wheelchair-accessible venue. Contact the box office to arrange for wheelchair-friendly seating.
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