Relationships and sense of identity are at the heart of the absorbing play, The Salvagers, receiving its world premiere at the Yale Repertory Theatre through December 16. There are a number of puzzling plot points and choices that playwright Harrison David Rivers needs to address, though, in order for his work to be fully realized.
Taylor A. Blackman and Julian Elijah Martinez in a scene from THE SALVAGERS by Harrison David Rivers. Photo © Joan Marcus.
Boseman Salvage Junior (Taylor A. Blackman), referred to simply as Junior, is a would-be actor that couldn’t break into the business in New York City so he has returned home to Chicago and moved into his father’s home, Boseman Salvage Senior (Julian Elijah Martinez). The two have had a fraught rapport, since the divorce from his now ex-wife. Still, the young man continues to live under his father’s roof. Junior, in his early 20’s, is angry, unsure, and searching for his play in the world. In between acting auditions, he is employed at a local restaurant. Senior is a locksmith with no office. He is just perpetually on-call. The husband’s former wife, Nedra (Toni Martin), remains a modest presence in her son’s life. Enter into the mix two women - Elinor DeWitt (McKenzie Chinn) and Paulina Kenston (Mikayla LaShae Bartholomew). Through happenstance, Elinor begins a relationship with Senior while Junior becomes intrigued with co-worker Paulina. How their respective relationships evolve – the ups and downs – along with the sustained dynamic between Senior and Junior forms the latter part of the play.
McKenzie Chinn and Julian Elijah Martinez in a scene from THE SALVAGERS by Harrison David Rivers. Photo © Joan Marcus.
The three women in the show are strong, smart, and more forthcoming with their feelings as opposed to the men who are portrayed, to varying degrees, as damaged goods. We don’t truly know the backstory of Senior and Junior so it is difficult to understand their trepidations. When the “reveal” is divulged near the end of the show it leads to more questions than answers. This, in addition to other puzzling scenes and plot points, is the crux of the problem with The Salvagers. Some examples (without giving away too much):
- Why was Junior in therapy and on medication (which we are reminded of a few times at the beginning of the play)? Except for a necessary plot point, nothing is explained.
- Senior had a very fractious and volatile relationship with his son, yet Junior still stays. Why not leave and live with mom?
- After the “reveal,” the ongoing connection between Senior and his ex-wife Neda becomes very confusing.
- The involvement of Elinor with the “reveal” comes across as contrived.
Lastly, while I always enjoy a feel-good ending, the show would have had more of a dramatic impact if it ended on the preceding scene.
Taylor A. Blackman in a scene from THE SALVAGERS by Harrison David Rivers.
Photo © Joan Marcus.
Director Mikael Burke presents a very straightforward rendering of the playwright’s work. He marches through scenes even if they are somewhat baffling and unnecessary such as the moment with Junior and his lighter. The use of overlapping dialogue and multiple characters performing in the same scene are skillfully staged. The Director smoothly incorporates quick, choreographed flourishes by Tislarm Bouie, such as the snow shoveling sequence at the start of the show, giving moments of the production a whimsical charm. Less successful is the set devised by B Entsminger - an oversized, snowy ice mass that towers over the performance space. A black meshed screen, pulled across the stage during most of the play, does offer separation between the looming mass and the minimal scenic design. John Horzen’s projections help define the Chicago locale, but unexpectantly end halfway through the show. They would have had a fuller effect if used throughout the production. Lighting Designer Nic Vincent’s dark, moody set-up gives the feel of a chilly, inhospitable Midwestern winter.
Taylor A. Blackman and Mikayla LaShae Bartholomew in a scene from THE SALVAGERS by Harrison David Rivers. Photo © Joan Marcus.
The cast is marvelous, led by Taylor A. Blackman as Boseman Salvage Junior. The actor gives an accurate read on a young man with so many highs and lows to his life. He is at times petulant, immature, and angry as he tries to find his place in life. Julian Elijah Martinez’s effectively presents Boseman Salvage Senior as a man attempting to connect to a son he doesn’t really understand. His portrayal can be intense and forceful, but also compassionate and more understanding as he, too, manages an assortment of relationships. Mikayla LaShae Bartholomew imbues Paulina Kenston with intelligence and self-assurance even as she looks to connect with others. I was impressed with her performance. She does need to speak louder to be better understood. McKenzie Chinn’s Elinor DeWitt, like the character of Paulina, is strong and understanding. The actress gives a compelling, no-nonsense performance. Toni Martin is solid in the role of Nedra Salvage. Besides an explanatory monologue near the play’s conclusion, her character has a small presence in the show.
Even with all my reservations The Salvagers is a show worth attending. Flawed, yes, but the whole of the play is greater than its sum parts.
The Salvagers, playing through December 16 at the Yale Repertory Theatre. Click here for information on dates, times and ticket information.