Also see Richard's review of The Unexpected Guest
But here, actress Linda Kennedy brings it all off with power to spare: she is (among other things, in 85 minutes) an older Aboriginal woman, returning to an abandoned cattle ranch in Australia's outback. As Maymay Starr, she keeps insisting she has "unfinished business" 50 years after leaving that dust and heat and endless work for something less chaotic. And now her afternoon, lost in the past, will bridge the gap between hopes and memories, and even her own genetic code. As a result, it's a powerful and entrancing show, and nothing is left unfinished.
Windmill Baby successfully bridges the theatrically strange and the emotionally accessible. It's a gap that Upstream Theatre worked to fill in its most recent production, Forget Me Not, but the results were more heartfelt than strangethe story of a mother and son's reunion, after a cruel separation.
The balance here, in David Milroy's 2005 epic of the soul, is far more compelling: there are light, magical desert interludes, and thunderous moments that threaten to shred Maymay's sense of self. In flashbacks, her peaceful coexistence with the ranchers is shredded too, and events force her into action.
Farshid Soltanshahi, Upstream's elegant musician from another dimension, is back to supply a lot of great atmospheric touches with a variety of instruments. And Ms. Kennedy's powerful vision of her family and her white overseers, and the beauty of human aspiration, all live vibrantly under the direction of Philip Boehm.
Ms. Kennedy plays delightfully with the audience, when the story is not testing her character so relentlessly. And you know you've been sucked-in when the occasional interruption of Maymay's modern cell phone becomes stranger each time, as we get deeper into the story. In that narrative immersion, a river drowning consumes us; and a trip to a general store becomes magical in her hands.
It's an often beautiful tale, set against the harsh realities of endurance and economic conquest. But it's also one where life finds a way to create some kind of delicate balance, every so often. Truly transformative.
A U.S. premiere, through May 11, 2014, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand (a block south of the Fox Theatre). Curtain's at eight, except Sundays, which vary a bit. For more information go to www.upstreamtheatre.org.
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the US.
** Denotes Equity Membership Candidate