Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

PlayMakers Repertory Company
Review by Garrett Southerland

Ray Dooley and Claire Karpen
Photo by HuthPhoto
"Sometimes you have to reach deep inside in order to pull out something alive." That thought could be about a lot of things. But for playwright Heidi Armbruster it seems to be at least partly about finding out what home means to her. Originally from Wisconsin, Armbruster now divides her time between New York City and her home state, and she has woven her experiences of these vastly different ways of life into the fictional play Dairyland, making its world premiere with PlayMakers Repertory Company in the Paul Green Theatre at the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art through November 3.

Armbruster's proxy is Allie (Claire Karpen), a New York food critic who longs for greater authenticity than what she finds in the farm-to-table restaurants she reviews. Her efforts to speak the truth about the farming industry only cause trouble, so she flees to her father Sam's (Ray Dooley) farm in Wisconsin to try to figure out who she has become and maybe make sense of how she came to be it. While there is much to repair between father and daughter, it is not entirely clear how what Allie learns in her father's barn is going to make a broader difference in her life back in New York City.

Making her PlayMakers debut, Claire Karpen finds plenty of authenticity in the somewhat manic Allie, managing to make her endearing even as she clashes with everyone. And PlayMakers stalwart Ray Dooley celebrates his 100th appearance with the Company as Sam. His performance in this production ranks among his best witnessed by this reviewer. Blue-collar Sam gives Mr. Dooley the opportunity to stretch out in a character quite different from many of his recent roles, and he is thrilling to watch.

Director Vivienne Benesch has brought together a creative team to deliver another of the top quality productions PlayMakers is known for. Special recognition goes to Jared Mezzocchi, whose educational projections about dairy cows, shown between scenes, do a great job subtly underscoring the themes in Allie's life.

Ms. Armbruster is quoted as saying, "This is one woman's very specific journey and there is a universal lesson about how hard and simultaneously how important it is to look for your true identity." I'm not sure Dairyland completely uncovers that universal lesson. It is much clearer what Allie is rejecting than what she has found to take its place. But there is a lot to enjoy in this production.

Dairyland plays through November 3, 2019, at PlayMakers Repertory Company, Paul Green Theatre at the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Road, Chapel Hill NC. For tickets and information, visit or call 919-962-7529.

Playwright: Heidi Armbruster
Director: Vivienne Benesch
Scenic Design: Narelle Sissons
Costume Design: Jan Chambers
Lighting Design: Amith Chandrashaker
Projection Design: Jared Mezzocchi
Sound Design and Composer: Lindsay Jones

Cast: (In alphabetical order)
Server/Liz/Sunshine: Emily Bosco
Henry/Sam: Ray Dooley
Allie: Claire Karpen
Declan: Khalil LeSaldo
Jonathan/Todd: Dan Toot