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Theater Review: “Ballast”

Savannah dreams crazy stuff, mostly about Xavier, but also about things like “dream yoga.” 
Photo credit:
Diversionary Theatre

Transformation is the theme of Georgette Kelly’s fascinating new play “Ballast.”'

Diversionary Theatre presents the world premiere of this eloquent new play through June 4, brilliantly directed by Diversionary’s executive artistic director Matt M. Morrow. 

At the center of the story are two couples whose stability has been disrupted by the gender reassignment of one partner.

It’s not strictly a psychological drama, but dreams figure prominently in their attempts to find solid psychological ground.

Grace (Dana Aliya Levinson is a transgender pastor who seeks another parish.

She’s been on leave and wants to go back to work, but her bishop – citing “rules” – refuses to reinstate her. She describes her dreams as mostly stressful: “disheartening, disjointed, dysphoric.”

Grace and her wife Zoe (Jacque Wilke) have relationship adjustment problems as well. While Grace feels “I’m more me,”  social worker Zoe finds the change difficult (to the extent of being embarrassed to kiss Grace in public), and misses the man she married.

Zoe dreams about flying, like she did as a child, but now she wants “to get away from earth a while.” 

High schooler Xavier (Maxton Miles Baeza) knew he was a boy (and dressed that way) from a young age, mystifying his parents.

Still in the pre-op stage, he has felt so alone that he’s taken to self-mutilation.

Now he has the same problem as Grace: he’s lost the stability of home (his parents have kicked him out), just as Grace has lost her work home in the church.

Xavier has nightmares, complete with demons, which he describes as “scary shit.”

Xavier and 16-year-old Savannah (Jennifer Paredes) have been best friends since childhood. Comfortable with gender fluidity, she thinks Xavier is “the one.”

Savannah dreams crazy stuff, mostly about Xavier, but also about things like “dream yoga.” 

The couples intersect as a result of online chat that brings “outcasts” Xavier and Grace together.

Kelly has a good feel for these characters and their attempts to navigate a path between early dreams of the future and the real-life changes brought on by more recent events. Her script is thought-provoking and funny, sad and hopeful, but mostly it feels real.

The tricky script (with all its dream sequences) is realized brilliantly by Morrow and his fine design and tech teams. Ron Logan’s simple but effective all-white set harbors some wonderful projections by Tara Knight. Emily Jankowski’s sound and Sherrice Mojgani’s lighting are spot-on as well.

One reason this production feels so real is that Morrow has cast transgender actors as Grace and Xavier. Levinson’s Grace alternates between the exaltation of at last being herself, anger that she waited so long, and sadness that her bishop can’t let her return to the parish she loves.

Baeza brings both energy and sadness to Xavier, the character who has perhaps had the most difficult time of it. 

Wilke, well known in these parts for comic roles, demonstrates the range required to portray a woman who may have lost the emotional center of her life.

Local favorite Paredes is spot-on in her portrayal of the spunky Savannah.

Dana Case and Skyler Sullivan bring humor and humanity to several roles apiece. Sullivan’s flight instructor offers the most telling rule that also applies to life: “To fly you must look forward, not back.”

Congratulations to Morrow and this splendid production team for providing a stunning evening of entertainment.

The details

“Ballast” runs through June 4, 2017 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard.

Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (619) 220-0097 or www.diversionary.org