In 1997, a gay man out walking his dog is brutally beaten in a park right outside of Redemption, TX. This is the first image that greets us as the lights rise on “Just Outside Redemption”, the latest from up-and-coming Austin company Theatre en Bloc. Created by Austin theatre talents Derek Kolluri and Jenny Lavery, the company has already garnered numerous awards and massive praise, but with “Just Outside Redemption”, the heartfelt story of Diane Hardy-Garcia and her associates, and their journey to bring protection to gays and minorities, they may have created their greatest work yet. Bringing in talent from Hollywood as well as Austin, Theatre en Bloc has created a play that resonates not just with homosexuals, but also humanity at large.
Suzanne Balling in past performances has shown she has a real talent for truly emotional roles, but here she is able to rein herself in to play the more buttoned-down Hardy-Garcia . The performance is far from the stoic, however, as she shows off so many emotions just below the surface. Its a restrained performance, and one that’s easy to discount, but Balling takes on Hardy-Garcia with a such a refreshing calmness that one can’t help but sit satisfied by what she puts on display.
The moment Beth Broderick walks on to stage as Texas socialite Harelene Corf, its hard to take your attention off of her. It’s obvious why she has become some a figure in the comedy world, as she has such a natural talent that it’s hard to believe. Featured on several major television shows and movies, Broderick has honed her craft over the years, and in Just Outside Redemption, she shows her edge certainly hasn’t dulled, playing with all her skills on display. Her offhand remarks got some of the biggest reactions of the piece, and it’s not surprising to see the entire theatre erupt in laughter after one of her trademark asides. Watching her is one of the true delights of the piece, and she helps to bring some levity to proceedings which could be quite depressing otherwise.
Though it’s easy to overlook them, Christopher Michael and Feliz Dia McDonald give a pair of powerful performances that put the audience in awe with their raw emotion and transformative powers. Michael in particular has such a commanding presence on stage, he’s sure to wow audiences as soon as he opens his mouth, his speeche resonating through the entire space. McDonald comes on a bit more quietly at first, but when she hits her heights, she carries just as much power, her scenes near the end full of such fire and emotion that even the hardest of hearts would be sure to be moved.
“Just Outside Redemption” is a powerful play, which should sit with masterpieces such as “Corpus Christi” and “The Laramie Project” on the list of best plays about gay rights, and with Kolluri’s powerful staging, Theatre En Bloc has shown themselves to be one of the most exciting theatre companies to watch. Of course, we mustn’t forget the top notch cast, full of standouts from the Austin theatre scene as well as those from TV and film, or the beautiful minimalistic music created by Blake Addyson, which comes together to create a powerful experience they ever Austinite, be they gay, bisexual, or straight, should make it a priority to see.
“Just Outside Redemption” is playing at City Theatre through September 30. For more information, and to buy tickets, visit Theatre en Bloc’s website at theatreenbloc.org