Review: Waterworks audiences see Hursey’s vision in ‘The Vagrant’

Published 12:53 am Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The Waterworks Players Community Theatre production of The Vagrant, a full-length play written by Longwood University’s Dr. Brett Hursey, is marvelous from start to finish. Hursey’s plays–from one-acts to full-length–have been performed in over 250 theaters throughout the United States, as well as Canada, Australia, and England, plus Belgium, Luxembourg, Romania, and South Korea.

Hursey writes impactful comedies where an undercurrent of pain and angst reveals the humanity of each character, even as we laugh with them and sometimes at them. The Vagrant has all of this and more. By the play’s end, Hursey had ably led the audience to deeply understand them all.

A Waterworks debut

Greg Tsigaridas, in his directorial debut, fulfills the playwright’s vision in a sympatico sense of solid trust, most likely borne when Tsigaridas acted in two of Hursey’s short plays put on by Waterworks: Small Doses in 2015 and Lucky Charms in 2018. Tsigaridas intends for you to have the visually and sonically immersive experience of being on a New York City street circa the 1990s.

Email newsletter signup

As you enter the Waterworks building, you’ll most likely run into the “Vagrant” character in the lobby, and before the play begins, you’ll hear snatches of music, along with pedestrian and traffic noise, plus a disembodied New York accent reminding you to silence cell phones. Fliers and posters on the set’s brick wall announce Clinton-Gore and Blink-182 and Green Day. Even the intermission cleanup is handled by a NYC sanitation worker.

Jordan Whiley plays Lenny Madison the titular Vagrant (he’d most likely prefer the term “philosopher vagrant”), whose current world is the busy street in New York City’s Financial District. He’s a contemporary Diogenes facing challenges optimistically and critiquing society from a sidewalk heating grate lined with discarded Wall Street Journal newspapers. Whiley, a seasoned actor at Waterworks, is at the top of his game in this demanding role. He captures Lenny perfectly, with passion and bold physicality.

More about the production

Leigh Lunsford is pitch-perfect as Maggie the “bag-lady,” Lenny’s non-philosophical compatriot on the street who has trouble with her eyesight but somehow sees clearly beneath the world’s stage veneer and into our souls. Maggie cares for Lenny, giving him warm orange hunting socks she found in a dumpster as Lenny cares for Maggie by ensuring she takes her heart medication daily.

Lunsford, in her twentieth year with Waterworks, is captivating and commands the stage with comedic brilliance. She’s a tornado of roiling emotion as she embraces her role as the unhoused Maggie, channeling her humor, irreverence, and outrage at the world and deeply touching your heart as her situation changes.

Ric Andersen plays John Wilson, a young stock analyst whose decision to humor Lenny changes his life. Though new to the Waterworks stage and Farmville, Andersen has acted in some 22 plays since 2003, including Death of a Salesman, The Seven-Year Itch, Bang the Drum Slowly, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Macbeth, in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. He brings John to life on stage, especially with his nuanced reactions–physical and facial–to what unfolds around him. I anticipate Andersen becoming a valued member of the Waterworks acting family. 

Newcomer Maria Sentz wonderfully embodies the role of Rachel LeMonde, a young, callous, and short-tempered stock analyst. She and John (to a lesser extent) are anxiously stressed about getting ahead in the savage world of finance where they could be replaced at any moment and desperate to increase their financial portfolios, despite legal risk and potentially grave cost. In her theater debut, Sentz takes the stage with gusto.

Melissa Meinhard lovingly embraces social worker Mrs. Edgeworth, well-meaning but hobbled by bureaucracy, harried and frustrated but deeply caring. She checks daily on both Lenny and Maggie, bringing a donated blanket to Lenny and heart medication for Maggie. In a wig of dreadlocks designed by Meinhard to evoke a “late 90s Seattle refugee” look, Mrs. Edgeworth personifies tireless and too-often thankless charity.

Billy Tucker is the gullible but hard working street vendor Rodney, hoodwinked into giving Lenny free food as his hot dog taster. In his role as a grounded everyman, Tucker evokes respect and sympathy. 

Some Waterworks regulars behind the scenes

Many Waterworks regulars also provide behind-the-scenes work that makes the magic happen: costumes by LeeAnn Schock, especially the street-gritty and street-pity layers of clothing worn by Lenny and Maggie;  the convincingly trash-strewn and begrimed set design by Billy Tucker and the effective city street lighting by Scott Chapman; plus solid efforts by stage manager Pam Wright, production manager Ruth Holliday, and props manager Geraldine Mongold, with Renee Segroves working the Light Board and Troy Halliday on the Sound Board.

Do not miss an opportunity to see how four Waterworks favorites and two Waterworks newcomers mesh seamlessly and effectively in The Vagrant, a poignant play by Brett Hursey that’s guaranteed to bring all the feels. By the curtain call, you more fully understand the apt phrase “People are people, people” and more fully understand yourself. The Vagrant still has evening performances on March 1 and 2 at 8 pm.