Mark Kenward delivers a gripping solo performance in “Nantucket”

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The lights dimmed, the crowd quieted down and the sounds of splashing ocean waves played in the background as Mark Kenward walked barefoot onto the small stage at The Marsh in Berkeley. The dreamy, ideal vacation island of Nantucket came into play. Kenward sat on his stool at center stage and proceeded with the ultimate form of simple storytelling.

Directed by Rebecca Fisher and written by Kenward, theatrical solo performance “Nantucket” is the story about Kenward’s own upbringing on the island south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In this performance piece, Kenward charmingly takes the audience through several scenes of a family growing together and apart. He opens his intimate tale with mentioning the origins of his parents’ decision to move there, and the mundaneness of his early childhood in Illinois before the family’s transition.

Although the first half of the play hones in — perhaps a little too heavily — on Kenward’s background, these details come together between the climax and end of the play to provide commentary on a traumatizing familial event.

To set up this equally funny and horrific occurrence, Kenward uses amusingly dark humor and frank explanations. He creates a family dinner vibe with the show, cleverly interacting with the audience as if they were family members or friends sitting across from him at the table.

To continue this intimate feel, the production also hosts a New England picnic dinner, which is included with the purchase of the show’s ticket and offered by the Berkeley restaurant, Grégoire. The dinner takes place during the intermission, right before the story’s darker moments.

A solo-performance with a 95-minute run sets the bar high when it comes to keeping the audience’s attention. Kenward succeeds in his ability to do so. His adroit performing skills and Fisher’s precise scene direction brings the level of entertainment that would be expected from a larger cast and production.

However, during the story’s climax, Kenward portrays events from his life with a seemingly indifferent shrug of his shoulders. He could have easily chosen a more comedic or even dismal approach to describe the violent acts between the characters, but instead there’s a distance he places between the several roles and himself that doesn’t fully enrapture the audience.

Some of Kenward’s portrayals of his characters during shock-factor scenes are bland. Arguments between his mother and father and young Kenward’s reactions to horrible acts are just not convincing enough. He simply lacks in his delivery of a strongly believable portrayal of the main characters. The story could have better engaged the audience if Kenward drew deeper, ridding the performance of hollow emotions.

Well-portrayed dramatic moments may be absent in the latter half of the show, but Kenward delivers and holds an entertaining production for the most part. An absorbing storyteller, Kenward brings comedy and suspense to “Nantucket” and gives a glimpse at a childhood on the dream island.

“Nantucket” runs through July 19 at The Marsh in Berkeley.

Contact Melanie Jimenez at [email protected].