There are too many bumps along ‘Alligator Road’

Brianne Beatrice*, Sarah Bendell and Victoria George in “Alligator Road.” Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots.

STONEHAM – New works are the lifeblood of the theater, refreshing, renewing and reinvigorating the theatrical canon.

But with new work comes both risk and reward, and while readings and staged readings are fine, the rubber doesn’t hit the road until a new work is fully mounted and staged.

The Greater Boston Stage Company is presenting the world premiere of Callie Kimball’s “Alligator Road,” and while the new work in press notes described as an “off-beat comedy” clicks at times, the dead spots are just too numerous to keep it afloat in its present incarnation.

“Alligator Road” is being presented as part of the Don Fulton New Play Initiative. A generous benefactor is allowing GBSC to perform a world premiere work each year, allaying the financial risks theaters take when they present new works.

Producing Artistic Director Weylin Symes said in the program that the Fulton Initiative is consistent with his belief that theater should both entertain and reflect the world around it.

Making people laugh is serious business. You have to get the audience invested in, interested in, and caring about your characters. They don’t have to be in love with them but they do have to be engaged with them.

As “Alligator Road” opens, Kathy (Brianne Beatrice) is recently widowed after her husband’s death, and she has inherited the family hardware store in Central Florida.

Things weren’t going so well in the marriage before his illness, and she was working as a caretaker for a man it turns out she was probably going to divorce if he had survived. But the phone is ringing off the hook with reporters wanting to know more about Kathy’s announcement that she intends to give away her store to an African-American woman she met a shelter, providing her with a new lease on life.

Enter Sarah Bendell’s Candace, Kathy’s daughter, armed with lingering resentments with her mother – even her birth was an accident – and she now claims she deserves to have the store, even though she hated the time she spent there and was unhappy her father was never home because he was always working.

Candace has had her own personal issues as well as her issues with Kathy but at the moment is succeeding in school and appears to be on the right track.

Kathy met the store’s new would-be owner Lavinia (Victoria George) in a shelter, where both women made incorrect assumptions about the other, and Kimball scores some points there about assumptions we make about people we don’t know.

Things get complicated when it appears Lavinia is going to stay in her good job and the task of running the store will fall to Lavinia’s husband Scott, who has taken a severance package from his former job in preparation for running the store.

The fact that Scott is a different person that Kathy expected is one complication, as well as her own mistaken assumption that she is giving a downtrodden black woman an opportunity for a new life.

Given the new circumstances, Kathy struggles about whether reparations are really due Lavinia and Scott, and the issue of reparations is batted around, again mostly on the surface without any real insight.

In some ways, “Alligator Road” is a play for our times, and yes, indeed, racial issues and even the matter of reparations are all on the table. It’s hard to say, however, that Kimball and her characters have moved the discussion forward theatrically during the 80 minutes of this production.

Many of the attempts at humor simply fall flat or are awkward. Lines such as Kathy’s declaration Kathy’s declaration “I’ve always hated Florida — it’s like the penis of North America” do get a yuk, but it’s more a cheap laugh and not something sustainable.

The premise also has to have some grounding in the real world, and it’s unclear how Kathy is going to support herself going forward and moving to Atlanta after literally giving away the store and admitting there’s little money to be had.

Set designer Kathryn Monthei’s bright, cheery and busy family-owned store is a gem, the antithesis of the big box stores that predominate the industry today. Kathy has taken up knitting in a big way, and crocheted creations are as much in evidence as the hardware, with the creations credited to the Melrose Yarn Bombers.

Director Symes has done his part giving Kimball’s piece every chance to succeed. with some handsome production values and a competent cast.

There’s no denying that Kimball, an award-winning playwright, is talented, but “Alligator Road” struggles to be believable, consistently funny and relevant in discussing important issues.

The Greater Boston Stage Company’s world premiere production of “Alligator Road.” Directed by Weylin Symes. Set design by Kathryn Monthei. Written by Callie Kimball, Costume Design, Stephen LaMonica; Lighting Design, Anthony R. Phelps; Sound Design, Elizabeth Cahill; Production Stage Manager, Rachel Sturm. At the Greater Boston Stage Company, Stoneham, through Oct. 29. greaterbostonstage.org.

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