nytheatre.com review by Joe Kurtz
August 14, 2009
Ether Steeds, written by Jason Williamson and directed by Niegel Smith, is a play about Skeeta, a 17-year-old girl who has a knack for storytelling and carries around the skull of a horse, calling it grandpa. It centers around her relationships with the three other characters in the story: her mom, her dad, and Emory. Her mom is a parent who might as well be the same age as Skeeta herself for all the responsibility she takes. Her dad is a salt-of-the-Earth farmer who volunteers to fight forest fires and chews mint leaves. Emory is a crab fisher who, in the present, is away in Alaska catching crab. He enjoys fishing with no bait and reading old poetry. The play swerves in and out of time, fluctuating between the present where we learn about Skeeta's feelings about things through monologue and past where we see back to Skeeta's life and how she got to where we see her now. The play also fluctuates between fantastical storytelling, done by Skeeta's parents mostly, and real life scenes where we see what's behind the stories.
This play is a finely crafted story where every character is a poet. Indeed, the strongest parts of the show are the monologues, of which there are many, where the poetry can be pulled front and center. Not to say the dialogue scenes are bad, they're certainly not, however they tend to suffer from too much poetry, making it hard to get truly invested sometimes.
The acting in this show is fairly impeccable all around. This is a difficult play to perform well, and the actors certainly rise to the occasion. Sarah Lord as Skeeta plays the role of a child who is discovering flaws in the fantasy world she has created with a wonderful naive clarity. Todd D'Amour as Daddy rasps through his lines, as someone with a damaged lung might, with the gentle confidence of one who feels right about everything he does. Birgit Huppuch plays Skeeta's Mom with a crassness only a trailer could love, but the depth of her pain certainly shines through. As Emory, Sahr Ngaujah presents a simple openness that makes him a joy to watch.
I appreciate this play for the good piece of art it is, however it never really touched me in the way I felt a piece like this should. I sat in the audience appreciating the well-written script and the fine acting rather than being fully consumed by the story and the people involved. Perhaps this is my experience alone, but I feel it has merit to mention. I think this play is absolutely worth seeing, though, so go, and you can make up your own mind about it.