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St. Louis by Richard Green

Lonesome Hollow
West End Players Guild


Jeff Kargus, B. Weller and Elizabeth Graveman
The West End Players Guild opens its 103rd season with Lee Blessing's tale of prisoners in a remote facility for child molesters, but in an America where the government itself is just as weirdly abusive itself. The time of the play is plausibly listed as "soon-ish."

And I hate to say it's a play about child molesters, because some people will just stop reading right away. But B. Weller is outstanding as Nye, the creepier, more run-of-the-mill of the two, while Jeff Kargus is excellent as what you might call "the wronged man." I have never seen Mr. Weller be given so much psychological territory to explore (thanks to splendid director Robert Ashton), nor seen him delve so deep in the 25 years that I've been watching him. Up till now my all-time favorite Weller performance was in the local premiere of Fuddy Meers, as the horribly/hilariously tormented puppeteer. He's horrible and hilarious and tormented here, too, but on a far more grown-up and intriguing level.

And then we get to the two therapist/inquisitors, played with worldly magnanimity and not a little elusive perversity, too, by Elizabeth Graveman and Mark Abels-thanks to them, Lonesome Hollow becomes an engrossing science-fiction yarn about a country gone very wrong indeed, though it's clothed in a very smug kind of righteousness.

Rachel Hanks does well in a role that looks like little more than a plot device thrown into the story: appearing late in the action as Mr. Kargus' sister, portaging-in with her a heavy load of backstory for this wronged man, along with a lot of insight into what America's become under a totally legalistic system of morality, ruled by its own version of extreme fundamentalism. Not to mention the fact that here, punishment is meted out by an inhuman corrections corporation. "Soon-ish" indeed.

But Ms. Hanks' plight, ably delivered and layered with all the other crashing conflicts, was so intense that I had to (reluctantly) disengage from the play, on an emotional level, near the end. Maybe playwright Blessing becomes too overtly manipulative in those last scenes, with the sister character, or melodramatic. But director Ashton is, of course, quite aware of the extreme tension, and our glimpse of Hell and madness is therefore no longer than your average worst nightmare. Interesting that all the real horror comes from the non-child molesters, in this strange case.

It's a great, shocking story, though the shocks have very little to do with sexuality. There's some very watered-down talk about the child-victims, and even a kind of eye-popping "topless" scene, which totally took me by surprise. But it all seems very secondary to the sly torment of this governmental outpost, set in a magical clearing in the woods. (And, if you pay attention to the lighting arrangement overhead, you should be able to figure out that there's a "reverse-thrust" set for this particular show as well, adding at least two more layers of meaning to the production.)

A story that's not-too-terribly-tawdry, and yet made far worse by the subtly wicked condemnation of Mr. Abels' charming and elegant "therapist" character: one that's redeemed by highly intelligent performances all around; along with that shocking dystopian feeling. And little glimmers of humor now and then, supplied by the redoubtable Mr. Weller.

Through October 6, 2013, at the Union Avenue Church, just north of Delmar. For more information visit www.westendplayers.org.

Cast
Tuck: Jeff Kargus
Nye: B. Weller
Mills: Elizabeth Graveman
Glover: Mark Abels
Pearl: Rachel Hanks

Crew
Director: Robert Ashton
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Pauline Ashton
Technical Director: Ken Clark
Set Design, Master Carpenter, Scenic Artist: Ken Clark
Lighting Design: Nathan Schroeder
Sound Design: Josh Cook
Costumes: Beth Ashby
Fight Choreographer: Brian Peters
Props Manager: Rebecca Davidson
Sound Technicians: Josh Cook & Mary Beth Winslow
Lighting Technician: Renee Sevier Monsey
Graphic Design: Marjorie Williamson
Box Office Manager: Jane Abling
House Manager: Tina Farmer
Program: Sean Belt


Photo: John Lamb


-- Richard T. Green

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