Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Flag Touched the Ground

The folks at Barnyard Theater, now celebrating its third season at historic Schmeiser’s Barn, off Rd. 31, had the decided misfortune to open its new production, “A Flag Touched the Ground, or Thorlock’s Tale” by local playwright Nicholas Herbert, during the hottest week of the year.

The price of admission to the play includes free spritzing with bug spray to ward off bugs attracted to the light inside the building, but there is, unfortunately, nothing that can be done to cool off a hot barn, except offer ice cold bottled water at the concession stand and sturdy programs which nicely double as fans.

Temperatures had dropped slightly by Act 2, but not much.

Playwright (or “Dramaturge”) Herbert, who also plays Thorlock, gives his thought process in writing this play.

“‘A Flag touched the Ground’ takes place in Sebess, a city-state which exists in an alternative reality,” he explains, “which echoes, but does not necessarily parallel, our own. The play is not an allegory about the current war in Iraq, Afghanistan, or 9-11. ... [it] employs a wider concept of war - as both cyclical and escalating - as a way of exploring not only our current world, but the historical relationships between war-torn countries and their people.”

The temptation for the audience is to assume that the situation in the Middle East was the inspiration for the show, but as the action proceeds and we watch the orders given to the soldiers, it quickly becomes obvious that this could be any country and any war.

Chris Shepard, who plays The General, stands on a platform shouting encouragement to his troops and you realize he could be Gen. George Patton, Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, or George Bush. The message is the same, the enemy is the same, the encouragement is the same. “They” are a danger to our community and “we” have to attack them, and too bad about the civilians who must die in the process.

Thorlock is a good man who lives with his daughter and his aging father (Josh Nielsen), a tyrant who feels Thorlock is a coward. Herbert’s performance as Thorlock is good in his interactions with the troops (all 4 of them), but is less convincing in the home scenes. Perhaps, as the author of the piece, he’s too close to it.

Fifteen year old Lila Wicker Hunt, the youngest person in the production, had some projection problems in the opening scenes, but she became more understandable later on. She had the unenviable task of spending much of the evening lying under a blanket.

At some point in the past, Thorlock’s wife Alice (Beth Bishop) “disappeared” after going out to the garden to pick mushrooms (in high heels...but let’s not quibble about costuming). Thorlock’s present life is a hunt for the missing Alice, whom he is sure he is going to find somewhere. The search for Alice drives his battle with the enemy.

I have to be honest. I didn’t much like this play. I felt much of the dialogue seemed stilted, though I freely admit that my discomfort in the heat of the barn may have contributed to my negative opinion about the show in general.

Performances overall were adequate, but did not live up to the promise of “My Avisia Winger,” this company’s first show, 2 years ago. Only Zoe Sophia Garcia, in the role of “The Chorus,” the narrator of the piece, rose above adequate. She gave her character a real sparkle.

In addition to those actors already mentioned, the Soldiers of Sebess were played by: Nathan Strickland, James Burchill, Mark Carpenter, Davis Wurzler and Lucas MacDonald.

The one part of the show that gets an unqualified rave is the scene change. I don’t know if the credit belongs to Set Designer Ian Wallace or someone else, but it’s brilliant. To explain it would be to spoil the surprise, so I won’t, but I think it’s fair to say that the audience has probably never seen anything like it before, at least not in this area.

“A Flag Touched the Ground” continues weekends through August 13.

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