Pensacola, Florida
Saturday March 23rd 2019


Brothers and Sisters

By Jennie McKeon

Pensacola Little Theatre’s latest production takes audiences to a darker place.

“In a Forest Dark and Deep” is a play written by American playwright Neil LaBute. It debuted in London in 2011 and this weekend, it will be on the PLT stage.

Like the famous line of “A Wrinkle in Time,” the story opens on a “dark and stormy night” and follows the estranged relationship between a brother and sister, Bobby and Betty.

“The show is more or less a mystery,” said Director Maureen McNeill. “From the start, we can tell there are unresolved issues between them. All families have their problems—Betty and Bobby are the embodiment of the darkest of them. As the storm brews outside, the siblings crash into each other.”

It was the sibling dynamic that attracted McNeill to the direct the play, she said.

“So many two-person plays are romantically driven,” she explained.  “There is a lifetime of shared experiences to explore between these two characters. It’s a juicy undertaking.”

“In a Forest Dark and Deep” takes a different route than most other PLT productions.

Under the theatre’s Studio 400 series, the show tackles adult themes and contains strong language. McNeill credits PLT artistic director Kathy Holsworth for supporting new and modern stories. It just goes to show that community theatre can do it all.

“We take risks,” McNeill said. “It makes us better theatre artists and audiences, and ultimately that is the goal of community theatre. ‘In a Forest, Dark and Deep’ is provocative. It will probably make audiences a little uncomfortable, but that is its aim.  The audience are voyeurs, peering into this remote cabin, witnessing a tense tug of war.  Judgments will be made quickly, but the forest holds unimaginable secrets.”

What is also different about the play is that the production is small. There’s just two characters. Bobby, the foul-mouthed carpenter with a violent streak and Betty, the prim and proper college professor. But, according to the play’s summary, Betty has a wild past that her brother won’t let her forget. Although the two lack a close relationship she still turns to him when she needs to move out of her cabin.

With or without your own sibling rivalry, there is a relatable message for everyone with “In a Forest Dark and Deep.”

“There is a Vietnamese proverb that says, ‘Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet,’” McNeill explained. “Betty and Bobby are so different, but they have more in common than they would care to admit to each other or themselves.  In that respect, their story is universally accessible.”

There are only two actors on stage to carry the story. Bobby is played by Jay Bixler and Betty by Deven Walther. McNeill said the two seasoned actors not only have familial chemistry, but the two even look related.

“Watching a two-person cast should be an elaborate dance,” McNeill said. “During auditions, it is difficult to know who will make the best partners. Predicting chemistry isn’t easy. We cast two seasoned actors who look like they could be related.  They are both endowed with a keen sense authenticity, so it makes for some great storytelling.”

With the play being only six years old, it is a relatively new piece for theatregoers. The mystery is still alive. No matter if people have preconceived notions of the play, theatre performances and their interpretations are always unique thanks to cast, crew and the social environments they live in, McNeill said.

“Unlike films, a play will encapsulate the audiences and the social climate in which it is presented,” she added. “It is just as much about what the audience contributes to the artistic conversation. During the divisive times we find ourselves in, you can’t help but see the timely parallels between Betty and Bobby’s arguments about race and sex. We are leaning into that.”

The only real way to discover the mystery is to see the play for yourself.

“Spend a night with us in the forest and dig into the lies we tell and the secrets we keep,” McNeill said. “I guarantee you won’t see the thunderbolts coming.”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. March 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17; 3 p.m. March 11
WHERE: Pensacola Little Theatre, 400 S. Jefferson St.
COST: $14-$20