Overambitious Colony Collapse may well be, and run about fifteen minutes longer than it should, but Stefanie Zadravec’s interweaving of five crisscrossing monologs with a realistic family drama plus a mysterious girl inhabiting a world of her own add up to a compelling World Premiere for The Theatre @ Boston Court, one sure to provoke much post-performance discussion with its themes of children gone missing, family relationships broken by drug-addiction, and a mysterious disease that has caused the death of over ten million North American bees in the past ten years.
As helicopter searchlights scan the Oregon countryside below, five parents share with us their overlapping stories—a mother who let go of her five-year-old boy’s hand a second too long, a father who gave his ten-year-old son permission to walk home from school alone despite his wife’s objections, a couple whose autistic twelve-year-old wandered out an open door never to be seen again, and the mother of a teenage runaway.
Those same searchlights shine down on the farmhouse being cared for by a married couple of recovering meth addicts, Mark and Julia, soon to be visited by Mark’s estranged high school senior son Jason, himself a runaway from a drugged-out mess of a mother and a home environment that could give hell a run for its money. (That Mark and Jason have something of a past is an understatement.)
As may already be evident, playwright Zadravec has bitten off a good deal in Colony Collapse, so much so that you may find yourself wondering how or if she will ever tie these disparate threads together.
Indeed questions do remain even at the end of the play’s two-hour-forty-minute running time (that’s including intermission), which is just one reason you’ll be talking and thinking about Colony Collapse long after you’ve left Boston Court.
One of those questions may well be whether Zdaravec’s play needs to be as long as it is. (In this reviewer’s humble opinion, cutting each scene by about ten percent would shave fifteen minutes off its running time without losing dramatic impact.)
Overlong or not, overreaching or not, Colony Collapse held my attention throughout, keeping me especially riveted during its Eugene O’Neill-inspired family relationship drama.
Director Jessica Kubzansky once again works dramatic, visual wonders. The five grieving parents inhabit the same space as Mark and Julia and Mark’s son Jason, but in a prop-free limbo, occasionally handing real props to the farm-residing trio. As for The Girl, well let’s just say that she pops up in the most unexpected of places.
Leandro Cano, Julie Cardia, Adrian Gonzalez, Jully Lee, and Tracey A. Leigh deliver compelling performances as Colony Collapse’s Oregonian Chorus (their graceful movements choreographed by Kitty McNamee), and Emily James’s work here shows the same blend of childlike innocence and adult intensity that audiences discovered last year in South Coast Rep’s Mr. Wolf. (Cano and Gonzalez double effectively as police officers.)
I can’t rave enough about Chris Conner’s gruff, grudge-holding, yet clearly wounded Mark; Sally Hughes’s warm, gritty, strong-but-vulnerable Julia; and Paula Christensen’s tweaked-out yet undeniably caring disaster of a mom.
Boston Court gives Colony Collapse an absolutely stunning production design by scenic designer Susan Gratch, lighting designer Karyn Lawrence, costume designer Garry Lennon, properties designer Jenny Smith Cohn, and above all by sound designer John Nobori, whose ambient noises, otherworldly sounds, and original music make for a heady mix.
Understudies Dana Lyn Baron, Larkin Bell, Tommy Day Carey, Desirée Mee Jung, Leslie Stevens, Marie-Francoise Theodore, Jor-El Vaasborg, Joseph D. Valdez, Donathan Walters, and Murielle Zuker have their own pair of scheduled performances.*
Gabe Figueroa is assistant director. Matthew Quinlan is dramaturg. Casting is by Michael Donovan, C.S.A.
Julie Ouellette is production stage manager .
L.A. theater audiences have come to expect the unexpected—and the challenging and the rewarding—from The Theater @ Boston Court. Though it could benefit from a trim, Colony Collapse gives them all of the above.
*I returned to catch the 2nd Understudy Performance on March 2nd and the powerful, deeply-felt work of all ten actors easily rivaled the performances of the performers they were covering, just one more instance of a Boston Court understudy cast that any theater would be proud to have as its main ensemble.
The Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena.
February 22, 2106
Photos: Ed Krieger