Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare treated us to a world premiere with “Sam and Carol: A Play Where Everything is True,” written by Richmond native David L. Robbins. Masterfully directed by artistic director Jan Powell, “Sam and Carol” tells the story of Robbins’ parents and spans several generations encompassing nearly 30 characters — all of whom are portrayed by two actors.
Robbins, the author of several books, is an accomplished weaver of tales, and so even though this story begins in 1995, then jumps back to 1942 and slowly winds its way back to 1985, there are framing clues and physical artifacts that act as placeholders and keep things moving on track. References to the development of the town of Sandston, details of the activity in the air traffic control tower at Richmond International Airport, a scene in the parking lot at a Ukrop’s supermarket, and discussions about the Vietnam War all help anchor this play in time and space. It is a comfortable, familiar space into which we are invited to learn details of the Robbins family, which makes their story simultaneously intimate and universal.
Robbins’ script is aided and supported by two fully committed actors, Nicklas Aliff and Eva DeVirgilis, who portray all the characters. DeVirgilis, in particular, is in her element, switching dialects, adapting her posture, adjusting her stance, changing her clothes and hair in the blink of an eye. Not only does she make it look easy, she also makes it feel convincing. Aliff, with his broad shoulders and thick arms, is already larger than life, but he paints his characters not only boldly but also with a sense of humanity — as when he portrays the son cleaning his father’s car after an accident.
Some characters even interacted with the audience; DeVirgilis served tea and cookies, and ad-libbed her surprise with a thick Jewish accent when I politely declined a cookie. Aliff similarly responded to an audience member who countered his toast with a response of “L’chaim” (to life).
With such stellar actors, not much else is needed. Ron Keller’s minimal set — a black and white platform with steps, a single gray chair and rectangular table — along with McLean Jesse’s multipurpose period costumes, Roger Price’s time-stamped sound design, and BJ Wilkinson’s modest lighting all helped set the right mood.
With all that we learned about Sam and Carol, two Army veterans who raised four sons in Sandston, the two are actually phantoms until the very end, when they finally appear wordlessly, in a touching, dreamlike epilogue to this well-executed tale of life and love. A heartwarming play that is part of the Acts of Faith Festival, “Sam and Carol: A Play Where Everything is True,” can be seen at the Gottwald Playhouse at Richmond CenterStage through April 25.