Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Mound Builders **

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
Allegedly Lanford Wilson named this play as his personal favorite. Judging from the current revival at Signature Theatre, it is difficult to understand why. During the lengthy first act, we meet August Howe (David Conrad), a famous professor who is conducting an archeological dig in 1975 in southern Illinois on the site of a vanished pre-Columbian culture. As the play's framing device, Howe is recording his notes on the disastrous events of the previous summer for his unseen secretary to transcribe. His comments are interspersed with slides photographed by his wife. The dig is a race against time, because the site is soon to be inundated and obliterated by a new dam and interstate highway. He shares a house at the site with his wife Cynthia (Janie Brookshire), their daughter Kirsten (Rachel Resheff), his colleague Dr. Dan Loggins (Zachary Booth) and his pregnant wife Jean (Lisa Joyce) who is on leave from her job as a gynecologist and who, as a child, had a nervous breakdown after winning the national spelling bee. They are frequently visited by Chad Jasker (Will Rogers), the son of the site's owner, who has dollar signs in his eyes anticipating the wealth that will be generated by the upcoming construction. Jasker is also sleeping with one of the wives and lusting after the other -- and possibly her husband too, which would be more plausible if Rogers displayed a scintilla of sex appeal and didn't come across as the village idiot. This motley crew is suddenly augmented by the arrival of August's sister D.K. (Danielle Skraastad), a former novelist and present addict. As the lady next to me aptly remarked: "She must be a visitor from a more interesting play." In the second act, the underlying conflicts erupt tragically, but not without leaving time for several lyrical speeches. One does not have to dig very deep to unearth a slew of metaphors about society, academic hubris, greed and the high cost of failure to focus on the people closest to you. The actors do not seem to have an affinity for Wilson's language and Jo Bonney's direction fails to keep them all on the same page. Neil Patel's simple set is evocative and Theresa Squire's costumes are fine. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes including intermission.

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