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Off-Broadway Review: “The Field” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Closed Friday, August 10, 2018)

Off-Broadway Review: “The Field” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Closed Friday, August 10, 2018)
Written by Emily Emerson
Directed by Brook Davis
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

At the beginning of Emily Emerson’s “The Field,” recently finishing its run at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre, the cornfields of Avon, Virginia are ready to be turned under by the hardworking farmers and the lives of hundreds of other hardworking women and men in the town have been “turned under” by the closure of the furniture plant where they have been employed for decades. All the plant’s production has been moved to Mexico. The folks of Avon need something like a miracle to pull them through this devastation.

The setting of “The Field” is a small diner run by Rita (a calloused but tender Cinny Strickland) and her young cook Enid (a wise beyond her years Emma Russell). Rita honors her deceased father by continuing to keep the diner in operation in good times and in bad. She is generous to a fault and diverts all the customers’ tips to Enid’s college fund. Enid makes the best hush puppies around using a secret ingredient to maintain her standing. The diner is Avon’s “town square” where all important matters are discussed, and relevant decisions made. After Mayor Bob Daniels (an officious and disconnected Douglas Paul Brown) announces the plant closure at Rita’s, local farmer Francis O’Donnell (a beleaguered but hopeful Brian Mullins) enters and announces that overnight a huge crop circle has appeared in his cornfield.

Into this mayhem comes George Sartori (a warm but suspicious Ben Baker) the reporter assigned by a regional newspaper to cover the furniture plant closure. Sartori is well-dressed, well-coiffed, and handsome as hell – the kind of drifter-grifter-diabolic intruder-stranger-alien-angel that often sweeps into small western towns and brings either “trouble” or “salvation.” Rita chooses “trouble” until Sartori pins her to one of the tables after hours and spends the night. So much for the possibility he is a messenger from God. While working, Sartori never loosens his tie, uses a small notebook for his research, and doesn’t seem to own a cell phone. Nor do any of the other residents of modern-day Avon.

Sartori initiates a “philosophical” discussion of the provenance and meaning of the crop circle. Has it been inscribed by aliens? Is it a miracle? Francis’s wife Beryl’s (a gentle and content Sarah Jenkins) overnight “recovery” from cancer would suggest a miracle; however, the reporter argues for a rational explanation and convinces the townspeople to try to “duplicate” the phenomenon in one of Bob’s fields in the same timeframe of the crop circle’s appearance in Francis’s field to rule out his theory. They fail, and Francis decides to test the miracle theory by plowing the crop circle under. To disclose what happens next would require a spoiler alert but it is as confusing as everything that has come before.

The playwright chooses to use a trope, here an extended metaphor, to grapple with the meaning of miracles and raise enduring questions about the phenomenon. There is a disconnect between the questions the playwright chooses to ask and the questions that are embedded in a rich discussion of miracles. Ms. Emerson engages her characters in a conversation about whether the crop circle might be the work of aliens, the work of humans, or a miracle. Not addressed directly are perhaps more difficult questions: Do miracles exist? What is the provenance of miracles? What is the longevity of a miracle? Can grantors of miracles reverse their supernatural occurrences? Does a miracle have to be embraced to be effective?

Ms. Emerson’s characters have rather poorly defined conflicts. Therefore, the plot driven by the conflicts wobbles without ever finding a satisfying dramatic arc. It is difficult to care about the characters or their problems and nothing is resolved at the play’s end. There is certainly no catharsis. Direction by Brook Davis cannot overcome the shortcomings of the script leaving the competent cast to struggle on their own to tell the convoluted story the best they can. Hopefully future incarnations of “The Field” will give Ms. Emerson’s intriguing concept a more satisfying treatment.

Unfortunately, “The Field” leaves the audience with only a recurrence of Beryl’s cancer and a befuddled Francis muttering, “What have I done?” But earlier, Sartori skips town after finishing his glowing account of Avon, heads to a new assignment, and now has Enid’s secret ingredient for her hush puppies – cold bacon grease. Might be worth following the grifter.

THE FIELD

The cast of “The Field” features Tim Austin, Ben Baker, Douglas Paul Brown, Sarah Jenkins, Brian Mullins, Emma Russell, and Cinny Strickland.

The creative team includes Matthew Emerson (scenic design), Claire Abernathy (costume design), and Liz Stewart (lighting design).

All performances of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, August 13, 2018