Plato’s “Symposium” records a myth told by Aristophanes explaining that we are only one half of our true selves – beings split in two by the gods to diminish our power and doomed to spend our lives searching for our better half. Fast-forward 2400 years, and we are still obsessed with finding our soul mates.
In “Soul Mates,” the world-premiere play produced by the Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company, local author Kirsten Knisely spins a gossamer web that stretches forward and backward in time with characters who search the cosmos for their soul mates. The play unfolds as a series of sweet, funny and poignant vignettes that examine the relationships between lovers, childhood friends, parents and children, siblings and sex partners. Whether they know it or not, the characters in this play share connections, barely visible in the fine gossamer strands that trail from scene to scene.
A primary attraction of this play is that four actors play 12 characters and sometimes return as those characters’ older selves. It’s a wonderful ensemble performance and it’s fascinating to watch as the players jump out of one role and right into another.
Julia Garlotte opens and closes the play as Mary Ellen, a bright young woman searching for her soul mate in 1945. She later plays Lenah, the shy little girl who is soul mates with Mary Ellen’s spunky granddaughter, Annabelle. Eventually, we meet Lenah again, 18 years later, when she dances with a stranger at Annabelle’s wedding.
Jaye Stellini is Annabelle, the girl who knows what she wants and how to get it. At least, she thinks she does. She also plays Maya and Kat, two independent, strong-willed women whose lives are shaped by a quiet boy named Jack… a boy Maya never gets to meet.
Matthew Turner Shelton plays David, a career-focused young man who thinks Annabelle might be his soul mate. And he plays Christopher, a young cartoonist who seems irresistibly drawn to Lenah, the pretty bridesmaid sitting out the slow dance. His final appearance is as Edmund, a caddie at the golf club owned by Mary Ellen’s father, the girl we glimpse in the first vignette.
Jonathan Davidson plays four distinctly different types of men. He is Seth, David’s immature, slacker roommate who turns out to be surprisingly wise. He’s the self-described nerd Jeremy, who finds himself falling in love with what’s supposed to remain a “friend with benefits” – a woman who has the name “Jack” tattooed on her arm. He also plays Christopher’s big brother and soul mate, Adam, whose coming-out dinner didn’t turn out quite the way he planned. And he is also sad, sweet Jack, caught in the tractor beam of destiny with no way out.
Ultimately, all of these people are connected through their search for a soul mate. Some find their soul mates, some lose their soul mates, and some are still looking. But all of these characters share that urgent need to feel whole. And that’s why we can relate to every one of them.
Directed by Magenta Giraffe Artistic Director Frannie Shepherd-Bates, “Soul Mates” is swiftly paced but not rushed. In the intimate Abreact Performance Space, the smallest shrug or eye roll reads to the back of the house. Fortunately, this company has learned to scale their nuanced performances appropriately. With each vignette, this play is funny, or romantic, or heartbreaking, or charming – but it is always honest.
Playwright Kirsten Knisely describes the cathartic nature of creating the script for “Soul Mates.” “It happened in a time in my life – the beginning of my artistic career and journey into adulthood – when I was searching for connection and reason, and looking back, I believe those ideas encompass the heart of the play. I am overjoyed to be a part of the production process with Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co., and to see how the piece grows with such a phenomenal cast of players.”
You’ll sense some of that joy. And the fun sound design by Ms. Shepherd-Bates, with a spectacular soundtrack by Jesse Shepherd-Bates of D’Orchestra, adds to the pleasure. As we approach Valentine’s Day, this is a great show to see if you’re worried about the chances for Love in a lost world.
The Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company production of “Soul Mates” plays at Detroit’s Abreact Performance Space through February 23 with shows on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. There will be one matinee performance at 3 p.m. on Sunday, February 17. Tickets are $15-$18, with pay-what-you-can tickets available for all performances. Tickets can be reserved by phone at 313-408-7269 or at the Magenta Giraffe website. The Abreact is located at 1301 W. Lafayette, #113, in Detroit. The space is small and fills quickly, so reservations are strongly suggested.