Family drama ‘Our Practical Heaven’ doesn’t lift off 

click to enlarge Joy Carlin, left, and Adrienne Walters play a grandmother and granddaughter whose family ties are straining in Aurora Theatre Company’s premiere of “Our Practical Heaven.” - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Joy Carlin, left, and Adrienne Walters play a grandmother and granddaughter whose family ties are straining in Aurora Theatre Company’s premiere of “Our Practical Heaven.”

Bird-watching isn’t the only tie that binds the six women of “Our Practical Heaven,” now in its world premiere at Aurora Theatre. Sibling rivalry, aging and loss also fuel Anthony Clarvoe’s gentle multigenerational drama. And then there’s the family’s crumbling seaside home, which may soon be swallowed by the rising tides of climate change.

Clarvoe, whose “Pick Up Ax” was a Bay Area hit, combines family themes with environmental concerns in this play, the third new work premiered in Aurora’s Global Age Project.

It’s a promising premise, although neither side of the equation registers with sufficient impact in this fitful first staging.

All seems well in the early scenes, as the family’s matriarch, Vera (Joy Carlin), leads her daughter, Sasha (Anne Darragh), and granddaughters Leez (Adrienne Walters) and Suze (Blythe Foster) on a birdwatching expedition.

Joining them on this “free-range day” — a revered family tradition — are Sasha’s best friend, Willa (Julia Brothers), and Willa’s daughter, Magz (Lauren Spencer.)

The nearby pond is a haven for migrating birds, and the women clearly relish the trek, the natural surroundings and the chance to spot whatever rare species becomes their “bird of the day.”  

Yet extreme weather is killing whole flocks. The emotional temperature proves just as volatile as the women’s revelations of illness, hidden motives and shifting alliances come bubbling to the surface.  

Everyone talks, but no one connects — especially Leez, Suze and Magz, who communicate via text messages, even when they’re sitting right next to each other.

Director Allen McKelvey paces the action well, and the cast is strong.  Carlin — a master of her craft — gives a nuanced performance as the fragile, feisty Vera.  

Darragh and Brothers are well-matched. The scene in which these two “honorary sisters” reveal their long-held grievances is riveting. Walters, Foster and Spencer make fine contributions as the disaffected younger daughters.

But the performances don’t overcome the script’s deficiencies. With its atmosphere of decay and ennui — and the ever-present preoccupation with the family home — Clarvoe’s writing recalls the emotional tone of Chekhov.

But his themes remain undeveloped, and by Act 2, his focus becomes diffuse and repetitive. There are six good stories in “Our Practical Heaven,” but at this point, they all feel less than fully realized.

Our Practical Heaven

  • Where: Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley
  • When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes March 3
  • Tickets: $32 to $50
  • Contact: (510) 843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org

About The Author

Georgia Rowe

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