It must be something about New York City. Living here, among so many people transplanted from some other part of the state, country or world, it seems like everyone has his/her “small town I left behind” story, so much so that many nights in the theater feel oddly like a meeting of a support group for artists dealing with Escape Guilt. I’ve got it sometimes. I know lots of people who do – lots of writers who do. But, hey, just because the big city still wins out at the end of all these stories, doesn’t mean anyone’s decision to leave “back home” is without its complications. We wouldn’t feel Escape Guilt, if it were.
It’s these complications of leaving that drive most of the action of That’s Her Way, a 45-minute one-act play by Kathleen Warnock. Ferro (nicknamed such, says the bookish girl, for being “ferocious”) returns to the Deep South small town of her youth to attend to her mother’s final days. The audience never sees the mother, though. The play stays on the front porch of Ferro’s childhood home, alternating moments between the present day and her high school days, some 20-odd years before. Her companion for both time periods is Stuckey, her friend from high school who never left the small town. As the adult Ferro and Stuckey reacquaint, we see the courtship of their younger selves, even as Ferro yearns to free herself from a backwards town and school system that refuse to name her valedictorian because she’s a girl. Ferro wants to be a scientist. Stuckey is also gifted, but also more in line with the small town status quo. As kids, then as adults, Stuckey is the loving temptation of this place that Ferro decides – the only time Ferro seems actually ferocious – to leave.
Danielle Quisenberry as Ferro and J. Stephen Brantley as Stuckey work well together, showing an ease and affection – especially in the flashback scenes – that resonates in the small theater. They also pull off the difficult task of playing older and younger versions of the same character. Quisenberry deftly navigates the dropping and picking up Ferro’s southern accent and is especially sympathetic riding the spark of possibility that keeps the younger Ferro going. Brantley is gangly as the younger Stuckey, but shows real skill in showing the ways in which all of the childhood physicality gets dialed back into a more still adulthood, only to return for fleeting moments.
Vivian Meisner directs a smooth production, generally using the small space to keep the show moving fast, bouncing between time periods. Warnock’s writing flows well and moves the story along at a good pace, though the strong, enjoyable character moments in That’s Her Way would be even stronger and easier to enjoy if much of the story of the play was more surprising, less well known and expected.