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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 15 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 46
The hole truth - STAGEright's latest gives new meaning to 'underground theater'
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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The hole truth - STAGEright's latest gives new meaning to 'underground theater'

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

FLOYD COLLINS
STAGEright THEATRE
(at Richard Hugo House)
Through November 23


STAGEright has enthusiastically embraced a difficult, seldom-done musical that deserves your attention. Floyd Collins, with book and some lyrics by Tina Landau, and music and lyrics by Adam Guettel (The Light in the Piazza), has an unlikely subject for a musical treatment, though in this day and age any topic can be musicalized, it seems. The titular character is a spelunker in Kentucky who wants to find a large cave in which he can set up a tourist attraction, envisioning the money he can make leading guided tours and licensing hawkers of food and souvenirs. It's his ticket to getting rich.

Floyd (Brian Lange) and his sister Nellie (Chelsea LeValley) believe he has "the Luck" and so far he has escaped from tight spots (not a metaphor) and never really been hurt. But in this cave, a fall of rock traps him in place 55 feet underground. Though this story takes place in the 1920s, it is still problematic today to rescue someone trapped like this.

STRONG WOMEN
The cast - including Jordan Melin as Floyd's brother Homer, Ben Wynant as local reporter Skeets, Bill Johns and Beth Wallace as Floyd's parents, and a small band of townspeople and others - works well to put the story of Floyd's attempted rescue over. Director Lindsey Larson emphasizes the unique characterizations, and while she sometimes over-emphasizes the crawling around underground, she generally keeps the show focused.

In particular, the two women, LeValley and Wallace, are the strongest, besides Lange, who has to spend a huge part of the play lying still and trapped. The set, by Brandon Estrella, is not pretty but is a star of this production, allowing for a visual representation of the difficult underground situation and other outside locales.

Guettel's music is atonal and dissonant. The harmonies are hardly harmonic, leading sometimes to an impression that people are not singing what they are supposed to be singing. But as you get used to it, it feels like ancient folk-telling music and a way of "speaking" that enhances the story immensely. Experienced music director Mark Rabe leads a trio of musicians providing simple but effective music, though occasionally not having him in front tends to make cohesion a bit bumpy. Also, since the singers are not miked, his piano is over-loud at times.

A TALE FOR TODAY
Some readers likely are familiar with Floyd's real-life story and thus know his ultimate fate. But the musical is still interesting in that it shows how a personal tragedy so easily became a mass-market, celebrity-driven gawking event, with people flooding into town to cover the story, hawk wares to the gawkers, or take advantage of Floyd's predicament in other ways. Floyd's helpless father seems to try every trick in the book to get money for his family out of the situation, while hoping his son gets saved.

This play doesn't preach, doesn't turn Floyd into some sort of hero, but it does make subtle statements about our society that resonate today. Every YouTube sob story or Facebook posting of need gets similar viral treatment these days, while the people involved just need actual, real help. Mostly, we just gawk. For more information, go to www.seattlestageright.org or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/342280, or call 1-800-838-3006.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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