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Colony Collapse
The Theatre @ Boston Court
Review by Sharon Perlmutter

Also see Sharon's review of Romeo and Juliet


Julie Cardia, Jully Lee, Tracey A. Leigh, Leandro Cano, and Adrian Gonzalez
Photo by Ed Krieger
If it really does take a village to raise a child, and our village is becoming dysfunctional due to broken families, drug use, runaways, and child abductions, are we nearing a point where we so lack enough responsible adults that our own society may fall apart in the same way that beehives suffer from colony collapse disorder? This is the question posed by Stefanie Zadravec's new play Colony Collapse, having its world premiere at The Theatre @ Boston Court.

At least, I think that's the question it poses. Honestly, the play is so intentionally disjointed and purposely unclear, I'm not one hundred percent sure as to what Zadravec's point is.

Colony Collapse interweaves three different stories. The first introduces us to five parents who have missing children. Their children either ran away or were kidnapped (or both), and the parents tell us how it happened, and how they are trying to cope. It is by far the strongest, and most moving, part of the play. We see how the parents deal with the uncertainty of not knowing their children's fate year after year; how they feel guilty for doing things every parent does but which, in their case, led to horrible consequences; how their friends don't know how to talk to them any more; how their relationships struggle; and how they wonder if it is ever okay to laugh again. Zadravec's writing rings true here, with the parents occasionally focusing on tiny details which mean little to the rest of us, but the world to them. The five parent ensemble is fully convincing, and your heart wil go out to each of them.

But that's not the main story of the play. After our introduction to this chorus of parents, the story settles in on a different family. Ex-con Mark and his ex-addict wife Julia are trying to make a go of it running an orchard. They are surprised by a visit from Jason, Mark's teenaged son from a prior relationship. Jason has been living with his mother, not-at-all-ex junkie Nicky, and he has come to Mark and Julia's orchard in the unspoken hope of actually finding some parents. But Mark and Jason have been estranged for years, and re-establishing ties between them is going to be difficult.

The losses suffered by the chorus of parents are so much more immediate than whatever went on between Mark and Jason in the past, that it is hard to actually care about what drove them apart and whether they can be reconciled. I found myself wondering, instead, about the parents' lost children and whether they would ever be found. But, also, my inner lawyer rebelled when the wedge between Mark and Jason was actually revealed. It isn't that what the play suggests happened would never have happened; it very well could have. But if the people involved had received even marginally decent legal advice, it would not have gone down the way it did. (Indeed, one might argue that the colony could have saved this particular family from collapse had someone not responded to a bad decision with a much worse one.)

The third story—and the one which sort of, but not exactly, ties the others together—involves a character called The Girl. She is the victim of an abduction, and we first meet her when she's trapped and bound. But she isn't really trapped and bound—that is, she's not scared or struggling, and you get the feeling that The Girl isn't really living in the moment of being kidnapped any longer—we may be seeing the spirit of The Girl, after she has died. The Girl we see is perky, optimistic, deeply philosophical, and talking directly to the audience. At the same time, the fact that she is missing is a plot point in the story of Mark and Jason. The police are looking for the missing girl on Mark and Julia's orchard, and the fact that The Girl is missing at all is something that motivates Julia to try to make a home for Jason.

As usual at Boston Court, production values are excellent. Karyn Lawrence's lighting design combines with Jon Nobori's sound design to effectively and efficiently create a searching helicopter. Garry Lennon costumes all members of the parent ensemble in shades of grey—a nice touch so subtle I nearly missed it.

Chris Conner as Mark and Riley Neldam as Jason both give performances that emphasize the basic goodness of their characters; there is no doubt that, despite everything between them, they are decent people trying to make a go of it in a society where the odds are stacked against them. Paula Christensen sometimes misses as Nicky; her drug-fueled anger gets audience laughs when it should instead earn sympathy for her target.

But, mostly, this is a good production of a problematic play. Zadravec is aiming for something in the scope of a Greek tragedy set in modern America—dealing with a troubled family trying to succeed against difficult, if not impossible, odds. But the trappings of the play—the ensemble of parents who lost their children and the spirit of The Girl—are much more engaging than the main tale Zadravec has chosen to tell.

Colony Collapse runs at the Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 North Mentor Avenue, Pasadena, through March 20, 2016. For tickets and information, see www.bostoncourt.com.

The Theatre @ Boston Court—Artistic Directors Jessica Kubzansky & Michael Michetti; Executive Director Michael Seel—presents the world premiere of Colony Collapse by Stefanie Zadravec; directed by Jessica Kubzansky. Choreography Kitty McNamee; Scenic Design Susan Gratch; Lighting Design Karyn Lawrence; Costume Design Garry Lennon; Sound Design & Music John Nobori; Properties Design Jenny Smith Cohn; Assistant Director Gabe Figueroa; Dramaturg Matthew Quinlan; Casting Director Michael Donovan, C.S.A.; Production Stage Manager Julie Ouellette; Key art Design Mila Sterling.

Cast:
Mother 1: Jully Lee
Father 2/Sheriff Randy Martinez: Adrian Gonzalez
Mother 3/Methhead: Julie Cardia
Mother 4: Trace A. Leigh
Father 5/Methhead/Officer Bill Mitchell: Leandro Cano Jason Riley: Neldam
Julia: Sally Hughes
Mark: Chris Conner
The Girl: Emily James
Nicky: Paula Christensen




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