The Feast of All Saints, Headstrong Theatre. The playbill calls this “a love story,” but William T. Buster’s play is that and much more. Set at the start of the 20th century, it tells the tender and tragic tale of a young woman who’s raped, then disowned by her family for becoming pregnant. The play’s heroine, Maria Vanelli (Veronica Shaeffer), must make a new life for herself though she’s emotionally bruised by her parents’ volatile, loveless marriage. Writer-director Buster plays the affable man who persuades Maria to accept comfort and friendship, and he and Shaeffer are magnetic as their courtship evolves into a supportive marriage that withstands several tragic turns.

The awkward, eager couple’s blossoming relationship is portrayed with captivating honesty, but the rest of the production doesn’t always run smooth. There are some fumbled lines and painfully long pauses at the beginnings of both acts, and the violence of the indignant Mr. Vanelli (Frank Murphy) is less threatening than the possibility that the actresses will stab themselves or each other with their sewing needles as they embrace and exchange stories while mending. Still, the emotional investment of the rest of the ensemble, dressed effectively in period costumes, helps this production transcend its flaws. Presented on a sparse set with transitions between scenes provided by cast members’ monologues about their own pasts, this is an engaging play propelled by impassioned performances.

–Jenn Goddu