In the new drama at Studio Grand Central, Something Clean, Charlotte Walker’s world has turned upside down.
“Her role in life has been a mom,” observes actress Debbie Yones, who plays Charlotte. “She spent her life taking care of her son. She had a very close relationship with him.”
Charlotte’s son Kai is a college basketball star. In events that take place before the start of the play, that dream has come tumbling down.
“He does something just horrific,” Yones says. “And she has to reconcile, ‘How did I do this? How did I raise a rapist?’”
Something Clean, reviewed by The New York Times as “beautifully observed, richly compassionate,” opened Thursday and runs through Aug. 28 at the intimate St. Pete theater. It was written by Selina Fillinger (Faceless); Ward Smith is the director.
We never meet Kai, who’s in prison, but spend the time with Charlotte, who’s dealing with sorrow, and confusion – and guilt over her participation in the defense of her son.
The title is a reference to Charlotte’s compulsive cleaning – she’s sort of a suburban Lady MacBeth.
“She is out, out, damn spotting,” explains Yones. “Beforehand, she kept a very tidy house. It was her way to keep everything in its place. And now it’s heightened, trying to clean things away and make the world make sense to her again.”
There’s more collateral damage. Charlotte’s husband Doug (Alan Mohney Jr.) is dealing not only with the swirling emotions over his son’s act, but with the growing distance between him and Charlotte.
Then there’s Joey (Troy Brooks), a young man who’s the same age as Kai.
“Joey is there to represent the survivors and the victims of sexual assault,” Yones reports. “He is, technically, the director of a rape crisis center – he runs workshops, he supports everybody, but he’s sort of the megaphone for the playwright to say 60,000 children are assaulted every year. It happens to everyone – men, women, seniors and kids.”
There’s much more to Joey’s story. He and Charlotte develop an unlikely friendship and become, in a way, emotional surrogates for one another.
Raised in Italy and (from her teens on) in Minnesota, Yones arrived in the Tampa Bay area in 2009, seeking her graduate degree in speech pathology from the University of South Florida.
She’s been acting since she got here, first (and still) in community theater, and more and more recently on professional stages (she was in Breadcrumbs at Jobsite Theater this past spring).
Originally, she performed almost exclusively in comedies. Over the years, however, she’s come to appreciate the more dramatic roles – like Charlotte Walker in Something Clean.
“As an actor, to be able to go beyond the surface, beyond the spit-take, and to find the complexities that would put a person in this particular situation, that work is probably my favorite part,” Yones explains. “If I could just do scene studies and character studies, and never be onstage, I would be OK with that too.”
Opening week has been especially emotional, she says, because of the Aug. 8 death of local acting coach, director, playwright and Theatre Tampa Bay board member Patrick Brafford.
“Both Alan and I are very inspired and motivated by him and his advice, and his guidance,” she says. “So he’s very present in both of our minds in this show.”
Tickets for Something Clean.