By Daniel Skora
Dauphin Island is a resort area located on the Gulf Coast at the southern tip of Alabama. With beautiful beaches and plenty of tourist attractions, the island is a prosperous community where vacationers come to enjoy the subtropical climate and the island’s numerous historical attractions. “Dauphin Island” is also the name of author Jeffry Chastang’s latest play, and it’s currently being presented at the Detroit Repertory Theatre.
Selwyn Tate (Jonathan West) has left Detroit and is headed for Dauphin Island for the fresh start that will allow him to get his life back in order. Out of work and behind in his child support payments, he’s been offered a job managing construction projects at the resort town. But along the way, he has car trouble somewhere out in the piney woods of Alabama. He’s cut his hand badly trying to make repairs and heads out in search of help. The nearest house he can find belongs to Kendra Evans, (Yolanda Jack), a self-sufficient woman who lives alone in a simple wood frame shack lacking even electricity. Kendra is suspicious of strangers, so when Selwyn comes running up to her front porch, his hand bleeding profusely, she immediately handcuffs him to the railing and holds him at bay with a gun.
And so the two begin to stake out their territory as they attempt to find a resolution to the situation they find themselves in. Selwyn attempts to assure Kendra that he means no harm and would like nothing better than to get back on the road and complete the last leg of his trip to Dauphin Island. Kendra remains cautious and is unwilling to release Selwyn from his captivity. Slowly but surely, as they begin dealing with each other in a more civil fashion, their humanity begins to surface until they eventually become friendly enough to start sharing the secrets they hold close to their hearts.
In the process of doing so, playwright Chastang’s excellent character study becomes not unlike the Aesop fable about the city mouse and the country mouse. Selwyn extols the virtues of a fine home with four bathrooms and lots of nice things. Kendra, who has planted her soul firmly in the piney woods where Selwyn now finds himself lost, becomes a dispenser of homespun truths and ways of doing things, like what makes country ham country, how to kill a chicken by twirling it above your head, and why spider webs will go a long way towards healing his wound.
Kendra is the play’s linchpin. The play takes place on her turf, and the rural Southern landscape permeates the story more than the island that neither of the two have ever stepped foot on. Yolanda Jack nicely interprets a woman of brusque character with hidden pools of regret and insecurity dotting her island of strength.
The play moves along briskly, the Detroit Rep’s mandatory intermission policy hardly affecting the flow of this 90 minute one act. Director Leah Smith never stands in the way of letting the two characters have at each other. Harry Wetzel’s set has the stitched together feel of no-budget living quarters, but it’s homey and comfy looking as well. Lighting design is by Thomas Schraeder, sound by Burr Huntington, and costumes by Anthony Toney. Stage manager for the production is Kelly Pino.
“Dauphin Island” is a fine realization of two characters on the fringes of society, one with a dream of finding a way back, the other trying to replace the trauma of past dreams gone wrong with new, completely different ones. The play runs through March 18th. Tickets are available for several subscription packages that can be purchased at any time and are good for a year from date of purchase. Visit their site at www.DetroitRepTheatre.com for more information or email them at DetRepTh@aol.com. The Detroit Repertory Theatre is located at 13103 Woodrow Wilson in Detroit.