Monday, September 30, 2013

LONESOME HOLLOW • West End Players Guild

The residents of playwright Lee Blessing's "Lonesome Hollow" are sex offenders.  The town, set up to keep predators removed from the general population, is overseen by a private company, and those who live there are subject to the zealous authority of the staff, who operate with no interference.  The warped extremes and erosion of civil liberties that take place within this colony serve to scrutinize the definition of crime, the system of punishment and the likelihood of redemption.  Though Blessing paints his "soon-ish" scenario with forcible strokes, the premise is provocative, and made uncomfortably relevant by the recent developments in Farmington, Missouri that have been in the news lately.

B. Weller (Nye), Elizabeth Graveman (Mills) and
Jeff Kargus (Tuck).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The play centers around two very different inmates.  Tuck (Jeff Kargus) is a photographer who had consensual sex with one of his underage models.  His artistic nude photographs and books were deemed pornographic, and remorseful for his actions, he spends his time fixated on a labyrinth of bricks he's making for contemplation and atonement.  Then there's Nye (B. Weller), a pedophile and repeat offender who understands what he is, and is unapologetic for his compulsive behavior.  Convincing performances under Robert Ashton's precise direction give this character driven cautionary tale a lot of bite.  Kargus gives Tuck a quietly intense focus until he learns, along with the audience, the hopelessness of his situation.  Weller, who has the ability to inhabit just about any character completely, does great work as Nye.  Though he's apathetic and malicious, he provides what little humor there is in the play, while the physical and psychological experiments he's subjected to by the staff draw sympathy.  Mark Abels plays Glover, a pseudo-therapist who looks in on the prisoners with an affected sense of friendliness, but reminds them that he's the one who decides when Hell begins and when Hell is over.
Jeff Kargus (Tuck) and Mark Abels (Glover).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Considering his disgust with the crimes the residents have committed, he perceives their level of freedoms quite reasonable, despite the experimentation and the gunshots on the outskirts of town that are heard throughout the play.  Elizabeth Graveman portrays Mills, a staff member who subversively seduces an inmate, with tyranny and also a bit of mystery -- keeping you a little off balance about her character's motivations.  Rachel Hanks plays Tuck's sister, Pearl, who pays an ill-fated visit to Lonesome Hollow determined to get her brother released.  Hanks portrays Pearl with a streak of frantic agitation, desperate to get her brother out and taken aback by the harsh regulations she finds there.  Ken Clark's scenic design features Tuck's labyrinth as the focal point, surrounded by the audience on three sides, with Nathan Schroeder providing the shadowy lighting design.  Josh Cook provides the minimal sound design to great impact, with costumes by Beth Ashby.

Rachel Hanks (Pearl) and Mark Abels (Glover).
Photo credit: John Lamb
While redemption is unlikely and the possibility of release is improbable, the plot of West End Players Guild's season opener won't give you any easy answers, but plenty to think about on your way home.  It's playing until the 6th.  


LONESOME HOLLOW

Written by Lee Blessing
Directed by Robert Ashton
Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd.
through October 6 | tickets: $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

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

Creative:
Scenic design by Ken Clark; lighting design by Nathan Schroeder; sound design by Josh Cook; costume design by Beth Ashby; fight choreography by Brian Peters; props, Rebeca Davidson; stage manager, Pauline Ashton.

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