'Splinter and Crack' at Juniper Productions: A chase across time and psyche, with breaking hearts

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(Left to right:) Akeem Davis, MB Scallen, and Julianna Zinkel in “Splinter and Crack” by Juniper Productions, through May 13.

At the breaking, splintering heart of Splinter and Crack, which has its world premiere at Juniper Productions through May 13, is a mother and daughter, with the lives of family and strangers in the shadow of their axis.

As the play opens, mother Rosemary (played with vulnerable magnificence by M.B. Scallen) is picking through a box of stuff on her lap. We hear an infant’s voice, then a little girl’s, then a teen’s. It’s a beautifully rendered moment, the whole story in a sonic snapshot.

These things mean daughter to Rosemary, absent yet powerfully present. Too powerfully: there’s a darkness, a reckoning coming.

In this 75-minute play, Jessica Bedford (Blessed Are, Reverie) creates a tightly restricted world. Contributing to that sense is where we are: a small space in a room of a former industrial building, exposed brick on all sides.

Every aspect, from Harriet Power’s muscular direction to the lighting stands framing the stage (a kind of superb existential cage designed by Lily Fossner), adds to the furious focus. It’s a chase, through time and the psyche, and Rosemary is the quarry. With hauteur and assurance, she refuses to be the bull’s-eye.

But something must be done, and that is why daughter Andie (played with divided, flushed emotionality by Julianna Zinkel) and husband Craig (played with awkward insistence by Alex Hughes) have come.

Andie is all grown up now. They’ve moved “across the river,” wounding Rosemary, who claims she is afraid of bridges and tunnels and so cannot possibly come to them. But unless something changes, they, including their child, her granddaughter, will never come to her again.

They bring in Rick, a famous TV intervention specialist.

Haas Award-winner Akeem Davis is terrific as Rick, who is not without doubts but good at what he does. So is Rosemary, a tenured literary critic, articulate, ironic, exquisitely aware. Their cat-and-mouse game is delicious, complex, and sometimes funny, charged with pathos. It ends not because they’re not making progress but because they are. Only he isn’t the one who must close the deal.

This is Juniper’s debut full-length production, hardly the short-plays-with-booze for which they’ve been popular at the Fringe and elsewhere.

Sonya Aronowitz, executive producer at Juniper, quite amazingly created this theater and this production out of nothing, finding a building in Spring Garden, finding the play, assembling cast and crew. I like the distressed-brick, storefront-theater, Philly flavor of it.

Not that there wasn’t booze nearby: Love City Brewing just opened two doors down. Aronowitz tells me she wants to get other theater companies into Hamilton Studios and make it an arts center, a theatrical family.

Much splinters and cracks during this fine production: relationships, tchotchkes, hearts. That’s in the sense of opening up, allowing in air and light — and in the sense of destruction. The final scene, as it must, has mother and daughter on their knees with each other, to each other.

Theater

Splinter and Crack