Alabaster Credit: Brian McConkey

Audrey Cefaly’s new play, receiving its world premiere at 16th Street Theater as part of the National New Play Network 11-theater rolling world premiere, tells the story of a photographer who comes to shoot a lonely agoraphobe in Alabaster, Alabama, and ends up having an affair with her. The fact that the plot sounds a lot like The Bridges of Madison County is even joked about by one of the characters late in the play, but actually the differences between this story and that one are so profound, you would be forgiven for not noticing the parallel.

That’s because Cefaly focuses not on romance but on the scars her characters carry on their bodies (the protagonist is working on a project photographing profoundly scarred women) and in their souls. The photographer, Alice (Jessica Kadish), is still mourning the loss of her lover and the child she carried. Her photographic subject (and fling), June (Mandy Walsh), is the only survivor of a hurricane that killed her mother, father, and sister—and left her for dead under a pile of rubble.

The beauty of Cefaly’s writing is the graceful way she reveals the details of her characters’ lives, one piece at a time, the way we reveal ourselves in real life. Slowly the walls come down, and slowly we show the flawed human beings behind our carefully constructed personae. This refusal to push the story means that stretches of Cefaly’s story are as slow as life—and as opaque—but the reward for waiting the scenes out are moments of soul-shaking drama, as when June delivers an eyewitness account of a hurricane landfall.

Ann Filmer’s elegant production mines everything wonderful about Cefaly’s play, and you couldn’t ask for four better actors than the ones who grace Filmer’s ensemble. Kadish in particular shines as the spoiled, cynical, psychologically damaged photographer. The way she delivers the moving last lines of the play just slayed me.  v