The current production of prize-winning playwright/screenwriter Bill Svanoe’s new comedy The Last Silver Zephyer, produced by Svanoe, his wife Joan Darling, and director Blake Bradford, is an entertaining enigma. Are its three colorful characters actually sitting beside the Colorado River in the dilapidated, about-to-be-demolished Silver Zephyer Café, which takes its name from a famous Denver-to-San Francisco train that is about to be mothballed; or are they sitting in some sort of cosmic way station where the unlikely romance that develops between two customers has some sort of supernatural dimension?
It’s hard to tell, one way or another. But the three characters — crusty veteran waitress Connie (Joan Darling), cocky and somewhat secretive entrepreneur Henry (Mike Wiley), and sultry woman of mystery Anne (Melissa Herion) are so engaging that the audience will enjoy them anyway.
Multiple Emmy Award winner Joan Darling is a hoot as the café’s well-traveled waitress who shamelessly plugs the Silver Zephyer Café’s home-made apple pie as food for the gods, while playing a not-so-subtle matchmaker for a couple of last-minute customers. (Can Anne tempt Henry Adam-and-Eve-style with a slice? Wait and see.)
Melissa Herion makes Anne, an admitted golddigger in her present incarnation and a former call girl in her previous life, nevertheless endearing; and Mike Wiley is a real charmer as Henry, who is not what he seems at first. The charm of The Last Silver Zephyer is not in the secrets ultimately revealed but in the collision of these complicated characters and in their conversation.
Director Blake Bradford has cast the show well and nicely punctuated it with original music by Erik Darling. Bradford, who doubles as the show’s set and sound designer, does a fine job of suggesting a venerable diner on the verge of being run out of business by a cookie-cutter chain restaurant; and lighting designer Robert Matteson and costume designer Megan Graff help dress the set and its characters for success.
What does it all mean? I haven’t got a clue. This time, the journey is more important than the ultimate destination.
Bill Svanoe, Blake Bradford, and Joan Darling present The Last Silver Zephyer Thursday-Saturday April 28-30, at 8:15 p.m., and Sunday, May 1, at 2:15 and 8:15 p.m. in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. $5 (sold at the door). Groups of 10+: 919/593-2287 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: There will be post-show discussions, with the cast, playwright, and director, April 30th, as well as an apple-pie auction and coffee provided by Whole Food Market of Chapel Hill.
Bill Svanoe, Blake Bradford, and Joan Darling will present The Last Silver Zephyer, a contemporary three-character comedy/drama written by Svanoe, directed by Bradford, and starring Darling, April 22-May 1 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Last Silver Zephyer is a new play by award-winning dramatist Bill Svanoe, who teaches play and screenwriting at UNC-Chapel Hill. Svanoe is a songwriter (“Walk Right In” for The Rooftop Singers), screenwriter (Waltz Across Texas and Fatal Beauty), and playwright (The Newsstand, The Downside Risk, The Black Duck, and Punch and Judy). The Newsstand won an award in New York for outstanding new playwright and an award in Holland for outstanding foreign playwright.
“I first came across [The Last Silver Zephyer] after working with [multiple Emmy Award winner] Joan Darling (Bill Svanoe’s wife) on a one-woman show last year,” recalls director Blake Bradford,. “Joan and Bill had seen my previous directing and writing experiences (The House of Yes, Dance at Bataan, Beautiful Thing, etc.), and we realized we share a similar work ethic and passion about producing great theater.”
Bradford adds, “I absolutely love the script, because it’s a comedy that never sacrifices characters for a cheap laugh. It’s also a very bold play, because it doesn’t rely on cheap tricks or flashy moments to entertain an audience. The play lives and breathes on its own as a great character-driven work.
“I honestly admire how trusting Bill is with his play,” Bradford says, “because he has never made it overbearing or overtly simplistic. I passionately wanted to direct this play after having lunch with Joan and Bill one afternoon where we discussed how much he respected and admired Clint Eastwood for Million Dollar Baby. Something clicked in my head as I realized that they both share an amazing ability to tell a riveting and compelling story without selling out their souls to the mainstream mentality that produces the same thing over and over again.”
Bradford says, “The play opens with Connie (Joan Darling), sitting alone in her run-down Silver Zephyer Cafe until she gets a visit from Henry (Mike Wiley), a powerful businessman that is in town to observe the building of his mass-produced cafe on the banks of the Colorado River[. Henry] will soon bulldoze Connie’s cafe. While he’s fearful of Connie, he has high hopes that she will come work for him at the new diner and bring with her the local patrons.
“All thoughts of negotiations are set aside,” Bradford explains, “when a mysterious young woman named Anne (Melissa Herion) shows up, claiming to just be passing through the neighborhood. Soon after, all three are put into an awkward situation when news comes of a massive flash flood that could cause the destruction of Connie’s cafe to come much earlier than expected.”
In addition to director Blake Bradford, who doubles as the show’s set and sound designer, the production team for The Last Silver Zephyer includes lighting designer Robert Matteson, costume designer Megan Graff, and composer Erik Darling, who wrote original music for the show.
In mounting the present production, Bradford says, “The hardest challenge was finding a space for the show. Many places showed interest, but finding a stage that was intimate enough for the production provided a challenge. We are absolutely pleased to be in Kenan Theatre, because it really fits the show.”
Bradford says, “The [show’s] set is a run down diner that was never really intended to be a diner in the first place. It was a railroad way station that got quickly converted to serve some meals to the guys that worked on the railroad. There’s a makeshift counter upstage and three old tables to serve the customers.”
He says, “The lighting is rather functional, serving mostly as interior light of the diner…. [And] the costumes take us back about five years, and reflect the three different worlds that collide: small-town American Connie, big businessman Henry, and traveling free spirit Anne.”
Blake Bradford says, “I believe it’s important to know that this production has honestly been one of the most positive experiences for all of us involved. Joan and Bill have been working professionally in this field well before any of the rest of us were born, but yet we all have this incredible bond where we work as one unit. Every rehearsal starts and ends with a hug from Joan, which really creates a working situation that makes it an absolute joy to show up to rehearsal and find new (and hopefully funny) veins on our journey towards the heart of the show.”
Bill Svanoe, Blake Bradford, and Joan Darling present The Last Silver Zephyer Friday-Sunday April 22-24, at 8:15 p.m., Thursday-Saturday April 28-30, at 8:15 p.m., and Sunday, May 1, at 2:15 and 8:15 p.m. in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. $5 (sold at the door). Groups of 10+: 919/593-2287 or email@example.com. Note: There will be post-show discussions, with the cast, playwright, and director, April 23rd and 30th, as well as an apple-pie auction and coffee provided by Whole Food Market of Chapel Hill.