Urbanite Theatre's Athena Fences with Friendship
Onstage for just a few more short days (through July 10), Urbanite Theatre’s Athena is an engaging, energetic look at two young high school fencers, whose parry and thrust in practice also reflects their growing but tentative friendship.
From the moment the two actresses playing the fencers in training enter, they’re in motion, wearing their uniforms and face masks, handling their epées, and warming up physically in a way that shows their fierce competitiveness. For Mary Wallace (Emma Giorgio), who comes from a suburban New Jersey family and seems to have strong support from them, as well as excellent grades in school, a fencing scholarship to college would be great, but probably not life-changing. For Athena (Lea Savola), who refuses to divulge her real name but likes the Greek mythology connection, living in the crowded city with her only somewhat attentive father, being recruited to college for her fencing skills could make more of a difference, but she has something of an attitude problem.
The two young women couldn’t seem more different, at first glance. Mary Wallace is more of a straight arrow, more of a worrier, where Athena can be cocky, and she’s more experienced in life, especially sexually. But as playwright Gracie Gardner’s right-on dialogue reveals, in their youthful, girlish dreams and likes and dislikes, they have more in common than they know. It’s been a long time since I was in high school, but eavesdropping on their conversations, as they gradually open up to each other, took me right back to those days and its girlfriends.
Savola and Giorgio are both convincing in their evolving roles (as directed by Summer Dawn Wallace), and the set (by Alyssa Mohn), with fencing stations at either end of a long platform and books, sneakers, fencing figures and more stuck to the walls, evokes the milieu in which the characters exist well. (Katherine Coyl’s role as fight director is important here, too.)
There’s humor here as well as some more touching moments toward the end of the brief but intense play (just 70 minutes, with no intermission). The ending felt a little abrupt to me, a little less than fulfilling, although its general intent is plausible. But for its depiction of two young women about to embark on the twisty paths of real life, Athena is worthwhile. For tickets, call (941) 321-1397 or go to urbanitetheatre.com.