The Santa Barbara Historical Museum temporarily transformed into the hot lands of Tanzania over the weekend for director Kate Bergstrom’s production of Footprints at Laetoli, one of the final shows of the On the Verge theater festival. It was a fitting setting not just for the outdoor atmosphere but also for the air of ancient ambience it lent, a historical setting for a play about the ancestral and amorous histories we carry, the pasts we can’t seem to let go of.
Meredith McMinn wowed as archaeologist Mary Leaky, conveying both wild-eyed courage in the Tanzanian wilds and long-held sorrow. Her performance conveyed a mixture of strength, stubbornness, and sensitivity. McMinn’s was chief among many great performances, including the tempestuous young pair of Allison Lewis Towbes and Josh Jenkins as a youthful Mary and Lewis Leaky; Josaiah Davis as Leaky’s loyal and spiritual digging companion, Joseph; and Joré Aaron as the levelheaded Dr. Kate Joyce. Ever-admirable regional stage veterans Justin Stark and David Holmes were perfect in their roles as an anxious photographer and an intense archaeologist, respectively.
Besides the strong cast, so much of what made Footprints work were the production details, orchestrated by Bergstrom and technical director Lazer Friedman. The set, lights, and sound were transporting and evocative, an achievement in world-making out of simple means. Playwright Darlene Craviotto is fortunate to have found such a solid cast and crew in On the Verge to debut her play, a semi-finalist for the 2011 National Playwrights Conference. It was a strong world premier and great first step for Footprints,, which likely will have legs for years to come.