'Faith Keepers' is a promising debut

June 18, 1992|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

The 11th annual Baltimore Playwrights Festival has gotten off to an encouraging start with a small-cast production of a play with a broad theme.

Patricia H. Lin's "The Faith Keepers" explores the clash between Southern American and Vietnamese-American cultures by zeroing in on a representative of each, without resorting to stereotypes.

In the first act, teen-age sweethearts Timby Sue Bartlett and Joey Lee confront not only raging hormones, but also enraged parents. In the second, which takes place 20 years later, we see the extent to which they have achieved their dreams, as well as the extent to which they have reversed roles.

Directed by Malynda Votaw and produced by Harbour Theatre at the Catonsville Community Careers Center, this seven-scene play tends to be too episodic -- a shortcoming reinforced by slow scene changes. But the dialogue and characterizations have the authentic feel that comes from a writer's careful observation.

This sense of authenticity is reinforced by the performances of Lisa Anne Mix and Arthur G. Sedmont Jr. Mix's Southern accent is hardly as smooth as molasses, but she and her co-star meet the more important challenge of conveying the stretch from adolescence to early middle age without appearing precious or forced.

Despite their different backgrounds, the characters share the awkwardness of being teen-agers, of young love and, most of all, of feeling out of place. For Joey, the displacement is physical, beginning with his birth in a re-location camp. For Timby Sue it comes from hiding the fact that she's not the airhead Southern belle her parents think she is.

Especially in the first act, there's an excess of talk about the

characters' parents -- who do not appear in the play. The problem becomes extreme when Timby Sue conducts a one-sided conversation with her off-stage mother. However, the parental references do help establish Joey's willingness to rebel and Timby Sue's fear of non-conformity, setting the scene for the second-act role reversal that is the slickest example of the playwright's craftsmanship.

"The Faith Keepers" is a promising local debut for this Rockville playwright, though it would benefit from structural fine-tuning. And, judging from the lovely symmetrical scenes that conclude each act, Lin clearly has a knack for structure.

Above all, however, what recommends this festival newcomer is her ability to present large ideas on a human scale. That's reason enough to have faith in the author of "The Faith Keepers."

"The Faith Keepers" continues at Harbour Theatre, 106 Bloomsbury Ave., Catonsville, weekends through June 27. Call (410) 653-9772.

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