Attempts to record the human voice didn't begin with RCA Victor and Edison. Instead, they started with the alphabet.
Millennia before the wax cylinder and the phonograph, forgotten artisans fashioned a series of visual symbols to make a lasting record of spoken sounds, and then, words. Written language developed the capacity to preserve and transmit the sounds and the sense of people, unmet and unremembered, from other cultures, lands, and times. It's no accident that we still refer to "the writer's voice" when celebrating a literary work that captures it with fidelity.
The triumph of The Miraculous and the Mundane, Howard L. Craft's new drama, lies in a script that records so many voices so clearly: the no-nonsense critical cant of Percy Nelson, a Vietnam veteran and an aging single parent who owns a Durham dry cleaner business, and the downhome gibes of his best friend, Bone, who has an auto-repair shop down the way. In time, we also hear the tense admissions of Percy's taciturn son, Junior, a Durham police officer, and the taut revelations of his struggling daughter, Chloe.
Even if Craft's characters didn't name-check a familiar restaurant and neighborhoods in the Bull City, they'd still be overtly local voices, unapologetically Southern in their preferences and idioms.
After spitting out a mouthful of unsweetened tea, Percy chides Junior, "If it don't taste like diabetes in the first sip, it ain't right!" When Bone's shop is broken into, he broods, "Somebody know who got my shit. Durham is small like that. Somebody got damn know."
In turn, the success of this premiere workshop production at Manbites Dog Theater rises from a quartet of actors and a director that know and respect the rhythms of such voices, in conflict and at play. Under Joseph Megel's direction, there's solid chemistry between actor Irving W. Truitt Jr. as Bone and the seldom-seen Trevor Johnson as Percy—two aging men squabbling over the day's discontents.
Lakeisha Coffey captures the tensions in a daughter who suspects her father is exhibiting early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease while grappling with a failing marriage. But after two weeks' preparation for this workshop production, Ron Lee McGill is still assaying the pressures surrounding his tightly wound character, Junior.
Though some scenes seem too brief or artificially extended to work theatrically, Craft resists many of the temptations of scripts that follow a medically induced story arc. Each character also faces other challenges, none of which are held too conveniently in abeyance when Percy's condition slips.
Throughout this promising work, the clear voices of four people—on the printed page and in these vivid performances—reinforce the palpable sense of family that we witness.
Miraculous? Not quite, not yet; there's more fine-tuning to be done. But, trust me, what's here right now is anything but mundane.
This article appeared in print with the headline "High Fidelity."