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Mari Vial-Golden and Kate Berg in Urbanite's Echoes.

 

It can still surprise even a regular theatergoer to be reminded of how seemingly simple it can be to relate an affecting story onstage, with just one or two characters, a bare minimum of props, movement or visuals—no bells or whistles needed. That’s often the case with Urbanite Theatre’s small-scale, high-impact productions, like the current one of Echoes.

Henry Naylor’s play presents two young women—Tillie (Kate Berg) and Samira (Mari Vial-Golden)—born nearly two centuries apart and with what you might think little in common, until you hear the stories they tell. Both are from Ipswich, England; Tillie living in the early Victorian era and Samira in today’s times. Both feel a call to a mission: Tillie’s to marry an officer serving in Afghanistan, in order to help populate the Christian British Empire, and the Muslim Samira to become the bride of a jihadi, in order to do the same for an Islamic caliphate.

Tillie is the more educated, capable of discussing the life cycle of insects and quoting Latin—neither of which assets means anything to her soon-to-be husband. Samira is the more angry, appalled by tales of Syrian refugees and afire with a passion (stoked by a like-thinking girlfriend) to fight back against her environment where Muslims are shunned or hated.

But neither can know just how naïve they are about the causes they long to serve, and the huge gulf between their earnest fantasies and the realities they face will bring each woman to once unthinkable decisions, at the mercy of their male-dominated world.

Naylor, thankfully, blends some humor with the frequently descriptive horrors each character meets, but there’s still no denying that the frustration and suffering Tillie and Samira endure may make you squirm in your seat at times. Under the direction of Brendan Ragan (with minimal but effective set and lighting design by Ryan E. Finzelber and some haunting sound design by Daniel Kelly), Berg and Vial-Golden are committed to the engaging but doomed women they play (and to voicing the play’s other characters, male or female), and Echoes feels especially relevant in its connection between their fates.

Echoes continues through Dec. 17 at Urbanite; call 321-1397 or visit urbanitetheatre.com for tickets.

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