Being a huge fan of Floyd Collins since its initial production in New York at Playwright's Horizons, I really wanted to enjoy this mounting at SpeakEasy Stage Company, but to but put it bluntly, I didn't. Brilliantly written by Adam Guettel (see Ryan's interview with Guettel) and Tina Landau, Floyd Collins has much to offer audiences and performers alike. Challenging music, a strong book, interesting characters, are just a few of Floyd Collins' riches. The problem with SpeakEasy's production, is that the show might be a bit too challenging for this company. This is not to say that there are not any good aspects of this production, there just aren't a lot of them.
The first thing that stood out as being terribly wrong were the technical aspects of the production. The costumes by Gail Buckley were terribly community-theatre like and showed no resemblance to what the Appalachian culture wore during this period of time. (As a side note: nearly every male in the show wore a pair of blue jean overalls.) For the most part, the lighting by Eric Levenson was far too dark and I had a hard time looking at the actors without straining my eyes. The one plus in the technical areas was the scenic design, also by Mr. Levenson. He has designed an abstract set made completely of wooden planks that is somewhat reminiscent of Playwrights' original design. The only problem here was that the main focal point of the show (Floyd's entrapment spot) is set downstage left as opposed to the more desirable area at center stage.
The production is grossly misdirected by Paul Daigneault, who is also the artistic director of the company. The staging is sloppy and unimaginative and often does not comply with the historical facts that are the basis for the piece. When we get a glimpse of the media circus going on above Floyd, there is no chaotic atmosphere and the audience is given no sense of how frightening this experience must have been to this small town. During "The Dream," late in the second act, Mr. Daigneault has everyone dressed in white to show us that it's a dream sequence. This is totally unnecessary; I think we figured out it was a dream when Floyd escaped from under the rock and is suddenly frolicking about the stage talking to his entire family.
Another fault that Mr. Daigneault has shown here is his casting of the piece. The members of the Collins family look nothing alike and this alone pulled me out of Floyd's world. Several roles are miscast with people not able to handle the vocal demands of the show. This is very evident during the larger choral numbers when it was hard to hear the performers in a theatre that couldn't have held more than 150. Many cast members overact their roles, speak too fast, and have very inconsistent vocal dialects.
The three exceptions to this are Michael Mendiola, Bridget Beirne, and Brad Evans. Mr. Mendiola, who portrays the title character, often lost my interest during act one, but succeeded nicely in act two giving Floyd a very nice transition from start to finish.
Ms. Beirne, in her role as Floyd's ethereal sister, Nellie, has a well thought out character with interesting mannerisms throughout. Mr. Mendiola and Ms. Beirne portray the unbreakable bond between Floyd and Nellie exceedingly well.
As reporter Skeets Miller, Mr. Evans is terrific. Each line and movement is perfect for this character and he makes the audience care deeply for his plight. Mr. Evans is the most emotionally affecting performer in the show.
Under the direction of conductor Paul Katz, the Floyd Collins orchestra is a mess. They are constantly unsure rhythmically, as is the show's ensemble, and do a great disservice to Mr. Guettel's intense score. Many portions of Bruce Coughlin's masterful orchestrations were either missing entirely or were poorly played. This may be due to a poor sound system or other technical difficulties; however the orchestra simply did not do justice to the musical's lush score.
Floyd Collins is quite possibly one of the great masterpieces of contemporary American musical theatre and it deserves far better treatment then it is being given at SpeakEasy Stage Company. However, it is worth seeing if just to witness the three performances mentioned above. If you are thinking of heading over to see this show for the first time, I suggest you wait until a better production comes along, so you can fully appreciate the musical and dramatic brilliance of Floyd Collins.
Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company, Paul Daigneault, Artistic Director
Performance Schedule: February 1-24 2001
Box Office Phone: 617-426-ARTS