“The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future, too.” It’s no accident that that observation was made by a playwright, Eugene O’Neill. Plays inhabit an eternal present, being performed right in front of us in real time. But some of the best ones reveal how human behavior is shaped by long-ago experiences and wounds that have never healed. Carey Crim’s Never, Not Once, at Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre Company in its West Coast premiere, is a compelling case in point.
College student Eleanor Davis (Sydney Berk), on a trip home to see her two moms, unexpectedly announces she has decided to try to find her biological father. Her birth mother (Melanie Cruz) has long insisted she was the product of a drunken one-night stand with an anonymous fellow undergraduate. Unsatisfied with that story, Eleanor decides to play amateur detective, and her investigation leads to a cascade of painful revelations.
The plot has echoes of the Brett Kavanaugh/Christine Blasey Ford story, but Crim’s only real villain is the corrosive human tendency to avoid facing the truth. The five-member cast is excellent; the relationships feel lived-in, and the big emotional moments never lapse into melodramatics. Director Katharine Farmer beautifully builds intensity even while keeping the actors physically static for much of the 90-minute show. The onstage stillness clearly reflects the characters’ emotional paralysis; when one breaks, so does the other, and the impact is heart-wrenching.