Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Kentucky Cycle"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Carl A. Rossi


by Robert Schenkkan
direction and scenic design by David J. Miller

Mother Jones; Margaret Rowen; Ensemble … Maureen Adduci
Mare Rowen; Julia Anne Talbert; Ensemble … Melissa Baroni
Ezekiel Rowen; Joshua Rowen; Ensemble … Peter Brown
Cassius Biggs; Franklin Biggs; Ensemble … Bill Bruce
Michael Rowen; J. T. Wells; Ensemble … Michael Steven Costello
Lucy; Musician; Ensemble … Emma Goldman
Carl Dawkins; Scotty Rowen; Ensemble … Terrence P. Haddad
Ezekiel Rowen; Tommy Jackson; Ensemble … Jordan Harrison
Joleen Rowen; Lallie Rowen; Ensemble … Amanda Good Hennessey
Rebecca Talbert; Rose Ann Talbert; Ensemble … Ashley Kelly
Judge Goddard; Tommy Jackson; Ensemble … Curt Klump
Jeremiah Talbert; Abe Steinman; Ensemble … Greg Maraio
Jed Rowen; Chuck; Ensemble … Brett Marks
Earl Tod; James Talbert Winston; Ensemble … Michael O’Halloran
Patrick Rowen; Zach Rowen; Ensemble … Jonathan Orsini
Joe Talbert; Andrew Winston; Ensemble … Jeffrey B. Phillips
Mary Anne Rowen; Ensemble … Christine Power
Deputy Grey; Richard Talbert; Ensemble … Brian Quint
Joshua Rowen; Ensemble … Matthew Scott Robinson
Randall Talbert; Ensemble … Jacob Rosenbaum
Sureta Biggs; Lana Toller; Ensemble … Cheryl D. Singleton
Taskwan; Jessie Biggs; Ensemble … Marlon Smith-Jones
Morning Star; Ensemble … Mia Van de Water

If Pulitzer Prizes were awarded for length, alone, then Robert Schenkkan’s THE KENTUCKY CYCLE deserves its 1992 citation for its long, bloody history amongst three families in the State of Kentucky; it is currently being performed in two parts by Boston’s ever-challenging Zeitgeist Theatre. Mr. Schenkkan clearly wants to deconstruct one for the books and is indebted to the Greeks with their falling houses, Mr. Wagner and his Nibelungen curse (the grubby patriarch Michael Rowen is a veritable Alberich) and Mr. O’Neill who transplanted classical tragedy to American soil --- there are stretches of THE KENTUCKY CYCLE that smack of high-school pageantry but they are outbalanced by scenes of engrossing drama, up close and personal, as the course of history constantly changes alongside the face of the landscape. Part I may be an ordeal with its victims and victimizers, revenge and counter-revenge (the cheerier each episode begins, the worse it will end), and those playgoers returning for Part II may be pardoned for evoking the Bard’s schoolboy, dragging his heels to school, but adventurous theatergoers should attend, nonetheless, to applaud David J. Miller for tucking THE KENTUCKY CYCLE so well into the BCA’s Black Box Theatre and for some brilliant ensemble-casting down to the smallest icon.

Where do I begin, praising this protean cast? Suffice it to say that this epic rests on four sturdy corners --- Peter Brown; Michael Steven Costello; Curt Clump; Brett Marks --- with two female peaks: Mia Van de Water in Part I and Christine Power in Part II; if this sextet make up the house, their remaining co-players are dazzling kaleidoscopes, within --- and in their proper periods and accents, too. Ms. Van de Water plays her native earth mother as so much wounded, waiting earth; Ms. Power’s mask, plain as a bone, burns with its own fierce beauty as a coalminer wife and mother (how comforting to know, in these political times, that some actresses can still suffer, and suffer well!). The male quartet has more to do, character-wise, and thus the men’s strengths are admirably showcased: the Messrs. Clump and Marks offer contrasting portrayals of working-class decency under fire, respectively clenched and relaxed; Mr. Costello makes his villains all the slimier by making them so likeable --- his would-be seduction of a wide-eyed miss is all the more erotic because the girl clearly wants to be seduced by him. There was a time when Mr. Brown struck me as a blank piece of paper; since then he has crumpled into a stage presence that doesn’t have to move or emote to make his points; it all boils down to channeling one’s energy and Mr. Brown is becoming a master of it, sending it out in retaliation or turning it upon himself in defeat. He’s come a long way, baby.

Sadly, there is another cycle running within the Black Box Theatre: the minimal audience attendance, despite critical raves, that brings to mind the apathy towards Zeitgeist’s BEE-LUTHER-HATCHEE (also with Mr. Brown), four seasons ago. Fortunately, there is still time to reverse the process and banish that nagging memory…

"The Kentucky Cycle" (6 October-17 November)
“The Kentucky Cycle, Part I” (Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays & Sundays at 2 p.m.)
“The Kentucky Cycle, Part II” (Fridays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays & Sundays at 7:30 p.m.)
Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 482-3279

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide