‘Voices of Swords’ Depicts Comedic Drama of Kids as Caretakers

“Voices of Swords” By Kari Floren Will Be Presented Off-Broadway August 15 to September 7 At Walkerspace

Combative family, facing autumn years, must exchange boxing gloves for kid gloves. Is 40 too soon to grow up? How about 45?

LR: Phillip Christian, Loni Ackerman, Celia Schaefer. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

In “Voices of Swords” by Kari Floren, the late thirties son of a woman facing heart surgery hires a forty-something personal organizer to minister to his lonely yet indomitable mother. The organizer is already struggling unsuccessfully to reunite her own family. As she is sorely tested by this job, her growing toward the light is an object lesson to Baby Boomers, whose struggles to care for dependent parents are a preoccupation of our age. Eve Brandstein directs a cast of mostly Broadway regulars including Loni Ackerman, Bob Ari, Phillip Christian, Gillien Goll, Michael McKenzie and Celia Schaefer.

In the play, the organizer, named Alexis (played by Celia Schaefer), is completely disorganized. Her marriage to Matthew (Michael McKenzie) is over, she hates her work and her daughter is estranged. Her siblings are alienated from her and her conflict-avoiding parents (Bob Ari and Gillien Goll) refuse to take her side. Nevertheless, she has been hired to ease the life of Olivia (Loni Ackerman), an unwillingly retired woman with an ailing heart. Alexis’ work is supposed to be a calm place for fixing other people’s problems, not a reminder of the turbulence in her own family. But Olivia is no sweet old woman in need of a little assistance, she is a veritable force of nature. The strain of balancing her against her headstrong, prodigal son, Kosey (Philip Christian) forces Alexis to reveal an aching, explosive truth that has caused the deadly virtual swordfight in her mind.

The play speaks with great wisdom about the challenges of facing life’s changes, even your own mortality. And while the play strongly resonates with the Baby Boom generation, the message is really multi-generational, since Olivia’s hard-driving lobbyist son, in denying his duty to his mother, is a forewarning to Gen-X and Y’ers of what’s to come.

Right Down Broadway

The production is the seventh production of Right Down Broadway under an Equity Off Broadway LOA contract. “Voices of Swords” was workshopped in 2008 at Urban Stages with a mostly-different cast headed by Rosemary Prinz.

Loni Ackerman (Olivia) has played leading roles on Broadway in “Evita,” “Cats,” “The Magic Show,” “So Long, 174th Street,” “No, No, Nanette” and “George M!.” She was in the original cast of “Starting Here, Starting Now” and appeared Off-Broadway in “Diamonds,” “The Petrified Prince” (both directed by Hal Prince), “Brownstone” and “Dames At Sea.” Her one woman show, “Next to Abnormal,” was seen at The Metropolitan Room in NYC and most recently at 54 Below. She is married to Tony Award winning Broadway Sound Designer Steve Kennedy and has two sons, Jack and George.

Bob Ari (Alexis’ Dad) has appeared on Broadway in “Act One,” “Frost/Nixon” (u/s Nixon), “The Constant Wife,” “Bells Are Ringing” and “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” His Off-Broadway credits include “The Late Christopher Bean,” “Die Mommie Die!” “Jolson & Company,” “Picasso At The Lapin Agile,” “Baby Anger” and “June Moon.”

Phillip Christian (Kosey) was most recently seen in “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Yale Rep. He has appeared at Hartford Stage, The Alabama Shakespeare Festival, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, The Classical Theatre of Harlem, The Public’s N.Y.S.F., The Great Lakes Theatre Festival and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park among others. He holds a B.F.A. from University of New Mexico and an M.F.A. from Yale.

Gillien Goll (Alexis’ Mom) has appeared in Peculiar Works Project’s Obie-winning “The West & East Village Fragments” and the solo show “Hector.” Her TV credits include “The Sopranos,” “Sex & The City” and Comedy Central’s “Chappelle’s Show.” She has been seen at La MaMa and Theater for the New City, among others. She is a graduate of Barnard College and has an M.A. in directing from Hunter College. (www.gilliengoll.com)

Michael McKenzie (Matthew) has appeared in Broadway in “Waiting in the Wings,” “The Man Who Came to Dinner” and “Eastern Standard” and Off Broadway in “If Wishes Were Horses” and “A Late Supper.” He toured with John Houseman’s The Acting Company and has appeared widely in regional theater. His TV credits include “House of Cards,” “Law & Order,” “Kidnapped,” many episodes of “Babylon 5” and season three of “Orange is the New Black.” (www.michaelmckenzie.net)

Celia Schaeffer (Alexis) has appeared at Ensemble Studio Theatre, LAByrinth, The Ohio Theatre, The Cherry Lane Studio and with Chicago City Limits Improv. She co-starred in the critically acclaimed “Macbeth: A Walking Shadow” (opposite Ato Essandoh), “The Doorman’s Double Duty” (opposite Matthew Maher) and in the 2012 staging of Chekhov short stories at The Arclight, “Chekhovek.” Her TV work includes CBS’s “As the World Turns” and NBC’s “Conviction.” She hails from Chapel Hill, NC and is an alumna of UNC’s School of the Arts. (www.celiaschaefer.com)

Kari Floren (Playwright) is author of “Revisiting Wildfire,” “If Wishes Were Horses,” “The Porch” and “A Late Supper.” In 1999 her play “Incidental Lives” was produced by New Avenue Theatre Project at Synchronicity Space. Her screenplays include the drama “The Night of the New Moon” (a finalist in the Nantucket Film Festival) and the comedy “It’s Magic! (A coming of age story for late, late bloomers).” (www.karifloren.com)

Eve Brandstein (Director) is a producer, director, writer and visual artist. In her early career, she cast TV productions for Norman Lear and the film “Spinal Tap,” among others. Her film directing career began in AFI’s prestigious Directing Women’s Workshop, where she helmed two films. She co-produced and co-directed 13 episodes of “John Waters Presents Movies That Will Corrupt You,” wrote “The Actor, A Practical Guide for a Professional Career,” was editor of “The Hollywood Review” and has penned ten poetry chap books. As a stage director, her recent projects include “Shut Up, Sit Down & Eat” (which ran for eight months at The Players Theater and will reopen this Fall in the Broadway district), three plays for the Jewish Women’s Theater and “Revisiting Wildfire” at the Odyssey Theater, LA, and Arclight Theater, NY. She also has curated “Poetry in Motion” since 1988 on both coasts. (evebransteinproductions.com)

Scenic design is by Doss Freel. Lighting design is by Nastassia Jimenez. Composer/musician is Roger Murdock. Sound design is by Jack Kennedy.

“Voices of Swords” will be presented August 15 to September 7, 2014 by Right Down Broadway Productions at Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street, New York City (TriBeCa). Tickets are $49 general admission. For more information or advance purchase call 212-352-3101 or visit www.voicesofswords.com.