There’s some power—and a potential for more—in Natalie Symons' play Naming True, now onstage at Urbanite Theatre. Its heartfelt story of two characters coming together in a low-rent Florida motel room displays strong dialogue and emotion, and the production boasts a compelling performance by Minka Wiltz and an occasionally affecting one by Alexia Jasmene. But the script could use work to make its plot more plausible.
The characters are the older Nell (Wiltz), an African-American originally from Detroit whose hard past includes a beloved brother in prison, and Amy (Jasmene) a younger, transgender woman who’s traveled all the way from Seattle to turn up unexpectedly to see Nell. Amy works for a company that produces e-books, and Nell has been doggedly writing one she wants to see published before she dies from liver disease—a death she’s been speeding forward with copious amounts of alcohol.
Nell isn’t pleased to see Amy, and Amy’s explanation for why she’s come so far for a stranger isn’t especially convincing. There has to be a deeper reason, and it’s not hard to figure out the connection between the two pretty quickly, although it may seem like one too many coincidences in Symons' story.
What’s believable, though, is Nell’s pain about her childhood and her brother (whose name, Truman, is shortened to True), although she’s not the kind to accept the sympathy Amy wants to extend. And Amy, who lost her own mother not long after appearing on a television reality show related to her transgender struggles, has her own pain to reckon with. But who would have thought that the poems of T.S. Eliot, of all things, would provide them a common bond?
Yep, you read that right. Despite her hardscrabble upbringing, Nell’s an Eliot fan—hence the references to him and his “naming of cats,” here tied to the multiple names of True. Whether you find that convincing or not depends, but Wiltz is good at delivering Symons' tougher, faster lines, and there is humor as well as heart in her performance.
Jasmene, a transgender actress, is not quite as successful at breathing life into Amy, but there are scenes between the two that do touch us and lead the way into a path they, and we, might want to follow.
At 90 minutes with no intermission, and set in that claustrophobic motel room during a Florida tropical storm, Naming True certainly runs the risk of becoming too talky and static. But under the direction of Daniel Kelly and with Symons' obviously genuine care for her characters, the play holds our attention.
Naming True continues through July 2; for tickets call (941) 321-1397 or visit urbanitetheatre.com.