Sometimes beautiful theatre happens in unlikely spaces. When Tim Faulkner Gallery moved from East Market Street to Butchertown last spring, the new digs gave the gallery room to breathe. A whole building on the intimate, tree-lined Franklin Street showcases not only to the many artists Faulkner represents, but also the art parties the gallery has become known for. Tim Faulkner Building also houses studios rented to artists, Matt Anthony’s Record Shop, a used bookstore and other small enterprises. Bands often play during evening events, and the courtyard buzzes with artist activity and energy.
And Saturday, a small corner of the building became a garden.
Directed by Brian Hinds, Rachel White’s one-act “The Gardeners,” billed as a “robot memory play,” is a brief cautionary story about potential and growth withering under disconnect and neglect. The script layers melancholy lyric monologues by the two robots working a tomato garden in Los Angeles, Maddy (White) and, well, Robot (Jeremy Sapp), with the manic cell phone / Facetime conversations of their fragmented family of owners. Julie (Karina Strange) is an actress having an affair with a director, her teenage daughter Blue (Jenni Cochran) is a cold wannabe starlet, and father/husband/aspiring cosmetics mogul Rich (Joseph Hatfield) is oblivious to how his family is crumbling around him.
Maddy is the older of the two robot models, and she’s also the tomato expert, coaching Robot on how to coax the best growth out of fragile seedlings. The two robots share a more humane connection than the humans, who talk nonstop past each other, focused only on their own needs while delegating the nurturing to their android workers.
The play is right-sized for its space and scope, and that’s refreshing — I would love to see more one-act originals among the full-length and ten-minute plays Louisville seems to prefer.
The performances are all outstanding, and the gorgeous, low-fi art direction, set and costume design by artist Patrick White (with makeup and hair design by Jessica Able) prove once again that theater artists can do deliberately beautiful things in temporary spaces (like the brick-lined corner of a working gallery) just as handily as on the city’s bigger stages. The chairs don’t match — and who cares? We’re there for White’s mournful papier-mache tomatoes ripening on the vine, for Maddy’s trowel-hand emphasizing how we should use our capacity for memory and knowledge, for Robot’s all-too-human expressions of grief.
The play is free and runs about 30 minutes. There are two more opportunities to see “The Gardeners,” Saturday, May 25 at 6:30 and 7 p.m. at Tim Faulkner Building (943 Franklin St.).