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By hm.lehrer                                                                                                                         Sunday, January 6, 2019

Art plays a pivotal role in educating both the old and young. Theater, in particular, can be a powerful tool in an attempt to expose and normalize humanity at its highest and lowest points. Natalie Symons exemplifies an enlightened understanding of human nature at its finest in her show, The People Downstairs, while maintaining a clear balance between juxtaposing influences of sorrow and optimism. Her ability to convey broken characters who uphold an interesting and inviting disposition, kept me on the edge of my seat. Even through moments of immense conflict, I was captivated by the resilience and hope displayed by the major protagonists, Mabel and Miles. Although presented as a comedy, the dialogue allowed for poignant commentary on the importance of family, life, openmindedness, and experience. The dynamic between father and daughter was quite heart warming as well. Both characters remained invested in the lives of one another despite the perils each faced as the story continued. A particularly powerful moment between the two acted as "lean in" moment for many of the spectators in the audience. The playwright was also able to include a subtle love story which underlaid a lot of the second act. Portrayed in a beautifully awkward manner, I was able to see broken souls connect in a way that resonated in a relatable fashion for all ages. However, the aspect that remains the most satisfying to me is the ending, which mirrors the exposition of the show. A full circle story line is always interesting, as it gives the audience clarity and leaves nothing "to be desired" of the characters. As a whole, I found this show to be wildly entertaining, with its quick-witted banter and shockingly accurate depiction of lower-class family in Buffalo, New York. With relatable characters and a fascinating story line, I would adore seeing this show adapted as a main stage production in the near future. Natalie Symons was only one of 5 featured artists at the 21 Century Voices play festival. The event, in its 3 year, featured 5 handpicked plays from a series of around 550 applicants. While I was only able to catch a glimpse at our amazing local talent, I highly encourage people to attend next years festival. The immersive environment caters to all ages, as local theater lovers come together to support and encourage new material. I left feeling inspired and enlightened after the Q and A, as I was able to see first hand how art can affect a collective body in such unique ways. Hearing direct responses and reactions from a wide range of people allowed for a closer look at the impact of the material itself. The group even shared some laughs as my fellow Blake Theater representative, Marin Burke, elaborated on the similarities between her Buffalo relatives and the stubborn polish characters detailed in the show. Overall, it was an exciting and introspective experience, and American Stage can count my presence next year, as I remain on the edge of my seat admiring the immense talent local playwrights have to offer. If you have time, check out Natalie's work, for I assure you will not be disappointed.


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