Theatre Review: ‘Ballast’ at Diversionary

BALLAST, a new play eloquently written by Georgette Kelly and skillfully directed by Matt M. Morrow explores this of balance and stability through personal and professional relationships for people going through the process of transitioning.  What the characters Grace and Xavier, with their contrasting narratives, and their loved ones find in times of assessment everything must be must be weighed and considered if it can help you stay balanced so you can continue on your journey.

Grace (Dana Aliya Levinson) is a married, white, suburban pastor who is trying to figure out where she now fits in with her marriage, her church, and her community.  Xavier (Maxton Mile Baeza) is Jewish teenager trying to convince his Mom that this isn’t a “tomboy” phase.   Xavier’s girlfriend Savannah (Jennifer Paredes) accepts Xavier as he is, while Grace’s wife Zoe (Jacque Wilke) struggles to figure out where she fits in with all of these changes; even as she misses the man she married.  Yet all four of them reveal more in their airy dreams and shadowy nightmares than they might when they are awake.

Grace is tormented by fire and brimstone religious nightmares of not being accepted, while Xavier’s focus on the mocking adult that encourages him to hurt himself. Savannah has a sweet lightness that reflects the goofy and flighty teenager she is; her dreams have an even more impish delight in her focus on her boyfriend Xavier.  Zoe dreams of regaining the certainty of her life that allowed her to dream of flying and soaring high above.  Her interactions with a flight instructor are what ultimately provide the title for the show. Ballast can be used to help you soar or drag you down if you don’t find the balance.

It’s an interesting look at both the generational and the relationship differences in the relationships.  Zoe and Grace are older, and have to deal with this transition not only from defining how this transition impacts their relationship, but also how they each react to potential public affection and reaction. Having lived and married as a man, Grace now has some additional avenues that require navigation by her and others who knew her before her transition.

Xavier is younger and finds himself feeling the most true to himself as a young man. His girlfriend Savannah is not only more comfortable with this fluid identity change, but also helps provide balance when Xavier is conflicted.  She is unconcerned by a lack of people to talk to about this change, because it just is who Xavier is and always was in the end.  She helps Xavier grapple with his fears by being unflinchingly supportive, while seemingly confused when Zoe shares her struggles to do the same. Zoe struggles to find a community that she can talk with to help her understand how she can navigate having fully supported each step of the process, and yet still come up short in the end.

Levinson and Wilke, as Grace and Zoe have the more complicated burden as their characters try to figure out how they still love each other, but may no longer be what they need in a relationship.  Each mourns the loss of someone, Grace the days she was pretending to be someone else and not embracing her own true self while Zoe mourns the man she fell in love with growing increasingly isolated from the woman who took his place.

Levinson is able to find the balance of humor with the sadness as she finds there is some bitter that is accompanying the sweetness of becoming Grace.  Her confusion and disappointment in dealing with Zoe feels very real and achingly poignant. Her portrayal of Grace’s passion for her job and frustration at the complications and hypocrisy she has to deal with underscores the many layers of complications a decision like this requires.  Wilke as Zoe is the play’s main emotional heavyweight, as she makes her pain and confusion of what this change has done to both her relationship and her own sense of self, and how it is possible she is both supportive and unsupportive at the same time.

Paredes as Savannah brings a lovely sense of hope, both for Xavier and how the next generation as they deal with this subject.  Her typical teenage antics with Xavier may cause some trouble, but no matter the gender, what teenager hasn’t behaved badly at some point?

Baeza is a great performer, bringing both angst and energy to his role.  Every movement and reaction from him was so genuine and seemed so natural that it was hard to believe his reactions and movements were rehearsed. The depth and complexity this role requires, and that he successfully conveys is impressive.

The cast is rounded up by the excellent support of Dana Case and Skyler Sullivan as the miscellaneous ensemble of mothers, friends, flight instructors, and others who help these characters traverse their individual journeys.

A good story doesn’t always need an elaborate set, a fact which this play proves with its nimble and spare set pieces.  Designed by Ron Logan, the set, along with some very well utilized screens and projections gives this play a light, airy, and dreamlike feel which provides a nice counterbalance (dare I say “ballast”?) to the intensity and seriousness of the topic.

Run, walk or fly to see BALLAST  at Diversionary Theatre, it is a poignant and thought provoking piece that proves that only by being yourself can your future take flight.

BALLAST is playing at the Diversionary Theatre through June 4th.  This play is 1 hour and thirty minutes with no intermission.  Tickets and show times can be found at www.Diversionarysd.com