Aaronsville woman digs deep

“The Aaronsville Woman,” one of a trio of Y.E.S. Festival plays, opens its second act with two women gratifying one another intimately, making it an appropriate addition to a festival with “Y.E.S.” in the title. However, the sexual escapades are not the point of this production; ultimately, this play is a creative and poignant experience.

“The Aaronsville Woman,” written by Stephen Spotswood and directed by Teresa De Zarn, focuses on two stories, one concerning archaeologist Eve Beecher’s (Samantha Wright) reluctant return to her hometown of Aaronsville, Pa., after 20 years to verify the remains of a woman suspected to be thousands of years old.

There she meets Philip (Warren Bryson), an employee from the nearby university and the apparent discoverer of the bones. From the onset, the chemistry of the actors brings energy to even the simplest interactions. Bryson’s neurotic and oftentimes humorous performance foils the cold reserve of Wright’s excellent portrayal of Eve.

The second story is of Evie, the main character’s younger self, played by April Leonhard. This plot follows Evie as a young woman exploring her relationship with childhood friend Samantha (played by Alisha Perry). Evie and Samantha comfort each other throughout Evie’s constant physical abuse at the hands of her mother and Samantha’s idiopathic episodes of seizure.

Neither story leaves the stage for very long, however. Through excellent use of lighting (which deserves special mention since it is an oft-underappreciated aspect of theater) one story line is at the forefront, while the other story line is simultaneously happening in the background, though subdued.

This technique is made possible by innovative stage design (the stage is divided into geometric steps that make “sub-stages”) meaning that the background and foreground of any scene can be seen simultaneously. This effect might be merely interesting if not for parallel story lines that often highlight one another by stark contrast or ironic similarity.

In one scene, Eve and Evie nearly meet in the house in which they grew up when the separate story lines almost collide. Scenes like this give the audience an exhilarated feeling of being subject to a medium that doesn’t follow traditional rules of performance.

There are sensual scenes involving Eve and the now-adult Sam (Elizabeth Worley), but more of Evie and Samantha indulging in carnal pleasures occur throughout the play. These scenes will undoubtedly be the first ones spoken of, or remembered at play’s end, but they are neither gratuitous nor lewd.

Make no mistake, this was not “Skin-a-max.” The portrayal of intimacy by two women left many adults in the audience stunned, which speaks volumes about an issue and way of life that is not often experienced seriously in theater or discussed by those not actively seeking it.

As Eve uncovers the mystery of the thousand-year-old bones, she also begins to unravel the mystery of her own past and her relationship with the Sam and her father Charles (Josh Bates). By the conclusion, the audience is left with a heartfelt story which speaks of a very real human condition that transcends, what might seem to the average audience, a difficult story of a victimized lesbian archaeologist. It instead becomes the story of a woman grappling with a life that has always had more questions than answers.