“RAFT” is a slice of life comedy about two friends stranded in the middle of the Pacific ocean on a bouncy castle. It has its moments of levity and moments where tension is nearly thick enough to cut, but it’s a gripping story that anyone can get invested in.
“RAFT” is the opener to the Tennessee Stage Company’s New Play Festival. The festival hopes to foster an interest in new, never before seen theater in many forms, including table and stage readings. “RAFT” was co-written by local writers and UTK graduates Carolyn Thomas and Harrison Young.
“RAFT” is currently being run in the Broadway Academy of Performing Arts. The space and setting are incredibly isolated, so the show feels so much more intimate. I sat front and center, and I was afraid I could have accidentally kicked the set.
When I first sat down, I marveled at the simplicity of the set. It’s a deflated bouncy castle atop a small wave of blue fabric. The set never changes and the actors never have the opportunity to leave the raft. This simplicity helps draw focus to what really matters — the acting and the story.
Our two strandees, Hedgehog (Nathan McGhee) and Morgan (Caitlin Corbitt) have been friends for most of their 30 years and it shows. In this almost certain death situation, the two share cutting quips and lighthearted observations, but there are also moments of revelation and confrontation. Our strandees feel like real, grounded people who react like we probably would in their situation. It’s easy for one to see parts of themselves in both of the pair.
Hedgehog is flamboyant and fun, but he is riddled with doubt and anxiety about his theatrical aspirations and the likely chance that he may die on that bouncy castle. Morgan is a realist who can’t stand being wrong but will do all she can to keep hope alive, even at the cost of her pride. McGhee and Corbitt are able to bounce off themselves incredibly well to build these intricate, interesting characters and are a joy to watch.
The story is straightforward, but milked for all its worth. As the chance of rescue drifts further and further away, the pair get more and more candid. The fast-paced banter is interrupted by confessions and anxiety more and more often. Hope is incredibly hard to manage and it’s truly heartbreaking. This play never stops surprising you, in the best way.
The fact that this show was written in a month absolutely mystifies me, as it’s script is one that I found incredibly dynamic and moving — to the point where it’s now one of my favorites.
Even with the restriction of a five-by-five mat and the need for one of the two to press on a hole in a corner of the castle, the choreography is deeply engaging. Both actors use the entirety of the stage they are given. Even when she’s busy plugging the hole in their raft, Morgan finds ways to physically harass Hedgehog when he decides to be too much.
Other than our actors and writers, three people have put their hearts into this project. Ashley Freitag acted as director and Jeniffer and Brittney Carpenter covered nearly everything else. “RAFT” is a passion project between a small team of artists, and it’s all the better for it.
“RAFT” premiered on Feb. 7 and will run until Feb. 23. Tickets are available at http://tennesseestage.com/ for $15. Showings on Friday and Saturday will start at 8:00 p.m. and showings on Sunday will begin at 2:00 p.m. The show runs for about 90 minutes.
If you wish to support local playwrights and enjoy a tale of comedy and humanity, “RAFT” is an exuberant recommendation from yours truly.