Quotidian's Actors Fill In the Blanks in 'Tomorrow'

Michelle Osherow and John Collins in the Quotidian Theatre Company's
Michelle Osherow and John Collins in the Quotidian Theatre Company's "Tomorrow," which runs through Dec. 10. (Quotidian Theatre Company)
By Michael J. Toscano
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, November 16, 2006

Is it possible to care for characters about whom we know almost nothing? Quotidian Theatre Company is hoping the answer is yes with "Tomorrow," Horton Foote's stage adaptation of the William Faulkner short story. It is especially tricky as the enigmatic people we meet are seen through the shimmering lens of a narrator's memory. Important plot developments are related to us secondhand, further widening the emotional chasm between characters and audience.

But this is a carefully nurtured drama that creates rich poignancy because of quietly effective performances. Devotees of Faulkner's fluid, unstructured style and Foote's ability to make small lives seem vibrant in their ordinariness may enjoy this.

There is not much information about the people we meet in this tale, set primarily in 1905 Mississippi but told to us in 1952. We can only guess at how they got to be who they are when we meet them, and why they take whatever action we see. It is left to director Jack Sbarbori and a cast of six, notably John Collins as the central character, to fill in the blanks for us with attitude that substitutes for details. Collins is Jackson Fentry, a man so taciturn and self-contained that we initially wonder how damaged he is mentally or emotionally. He leaves his father's farm with nary a backward glance to take a job manning a lonely outpost as the caretaker for a remote lumber mill. Is he running from something? To something? We never find out. Collins evinces shy gentleness in Fentry's rare dealings with others, making him seem extraordinarily placid rather than brooding. In an occurrence that is almost cloying because of the timing, a sick, pregnant woman shows up at Fentry's shack on Christmas Eve, abandoned by her husband. Despite his previous disconnection from other humans, Fentry almost immediately asks her to stay with him. When she dies, he raises her son as his own.

So far, it's all preamble, leading to an improbable series of events almost two decades later. But preamble is all we get. We hear about highly charged, dramatic occurrences only after an additional 30 years have passed, and a lawyer, played with ironic detachment by Steve LaRocque, remembers one of his early cases in which Fentry was the lone holdout juror in a 1922 murder case. It is highly indirect storytelling. Faulkner and Foote provide the frame and the paint, and maybe a few initial brush strokes of atmosphere, but leave it to the viewer to create the full picture. We never even meet the boy, who becomes the pivotal character.

Collins manages to make us feel some warmth toward a man who refuses to express any emotion and tends to retreat whenever emotion intrudes on him. We can learn from him about unconditional love and perseverance. Collins packs a lot of meaning into terse dialogue. "What boy?" is not just a rhetorical question he spits out at a critical moment, it is Fentry's version of a primal scream, a personal statement in which two words have the impact of a lengthy, intricate soliloquy.

Michele Osherow is effective in her scenes as the dying pregnant woman, grateful but seemingly not surprised by Fentry's immediate attachment to her. John Decker provides a hint of Fentry's emotional background as the taciturn Pa who doesn't bat an eye each time Fentry shows up after years away as if returning from running an errand. Stephanie Mumford and Michael Avolio nicely round out the cast as good-hearted, ordinary folk, the kind of people Foote specializes in sketching.

"Tomorrow" may be too slow and inscrutable for some, but fans of Foote and Faulkner will find substance in this finely tuned, if low-key, production.

"Tomorrow" continues through Dec. 10, performed by Quotidian Theatre Company at The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh St., Bethesda. Showtime Fridays and Saturdays is 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There will be a matinee Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. For reservations, call 301-816-1023. For information, visithttp://www.quotidiantheatre.org.

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