How far would you go to protect those you love? Leegrid Steven’s emotionally charged play, The Twelfth Labor tackles this unanswerable question. If blood is truly thicker than water, we would go to hell and back to protect our loved ones. Speaking of love, isn’t it safe to say that we all have a burning desire to be loved like “a flame in the darkness?” Stevens dives right into these deeply human yearnings and hits us right in the gut and heart.
During the horrors of Wake Island in WW II, matriarch, Esther finds herself alone trying to protect her family from going hungry by running the family with a firm unwavering hand. She appears callous and frigid, but simply calling her a “bitch” is unfair. She practices the hardest love of all; tough love. Her three children don’t make her life any easier. Her daughter Cleo, whom most of the play follows, has special needs. When Cleo is taken advantage of and impregnated by a unscrupulous man, Esther springs into action and hides Cloe away, to save Cleo from the torment from the town’s malicious gossipers. Esther bravely passes the pregnancy off as her own. The second and third acts are told from Cleo’s perspective. In act two, everyone speaks with a slur, showing the audience how Cleo hears the world around her. Act three is Cleo’s dream, which turns into a harrowing nightmare. Act four is filled with surprises. These two acts are the most interesting to watch because of their unexpected theatricality.
The cast is well suited. Lynne McCollough plays the domineering Esther, with constant ferocity. Yet, she gives us glimpses of the softer, more tender woman that she killed off in order to ensure her family’s survival. Erin Treadway steals the show as Cleo. She captures Cleo’s innocence and unspeakable pain excellently. She doesn’t give us a stereotypical portrayal of disability, but rather a human with all the complexities, trapped in a limited body and mind. The other cast members serve the play well. Tanis Rivera LePore makes for a great, Herk, Cleo’s son, although we never really know if Cleo knows that Herk is her child. I just wish that the creative team would have hid the fact that LePore is a girl better, when the play clearly states that Herk is a boy. In one scene, LePore’s hat is removed and we can plainly see Lepore’s identity. This is in no way the fault of LePore, and does not take away from her fine performance.
This play tackles a lot and runs a good two and a half hours. Most of the time, we feel as if we are following Cleo’s story. But act four, introduces new character developments that, although interesting, come out of nowhere and don’t serve the play. Stevens has a lot of good stuff, but act four seems wayward and disconnected from Cleo’s story. Following Cleo’s journey is gripping and engaging all on its own, therefore the other plot lines seem unnecessary and detract from the overall power of the play..
Stevens’ talent and prowess as a playwright shines through. His characters are rich. I hope that he will stream-line the story a bit more to further increase the play’s poignancy. The Twelfth Labor is not only about love, but it obviously was written and acted with love by everyone involved.
The Twelfth Labor plays now through Oct. 11, 2014 at the Gene Frankel Theater, 24 Bond St.NYC. http://LoadingDockTheatre.org.