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BWW Review: POSTVILLE Exposes Cultural Clash in Small Town America

Currently running at the Trinity Street Baptist Church, Last Act Theatre Company, in partnership with the Austin Jewish Repertory Theatre, present POSTVILLE, a project sponsored by Austin Creative Alliance. POSTVILLE is a fictional work, based on actual events in the town of Postville, IA written by playwright, Don Fried. The script was adapted from the original book Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America, written by Stephen G. Bloom. Although the events in the story are based in reality, the people, places, and things in the play are indeed fictitious.

The show opens with the audience joining in on a journey through small-town America, slowing down to catch up with a few of the town's original characters as they go about their morning routines. The traditional rhythm of filling their coffee at the local diner, rocking in their front-porch chairs, and discussing the latest weather, gives the audience a glimpse into their daily rituals. This comfort zone may be mundane and banal to most, but it is presented in a charming and endearing way, providing a snapshot of their slow-moving small-town life. This rhythm is disrupted by some new and strange visitors, interested in investing in the town, promptly changing the way of life as the town knows it. Ironically, the investment is brought on by Hasidic Jews reviving an old meat-packing factory. This business presents the town of Postville with America's age-old challenge: living in a cultural melting pot and actually having the gumption to melt and coexist with their new neighbors.

Last Act's production does well in presenting the strong theme of POSTVILLE: tolerance. At the head of the new Jewish neighbors is Moishe (played by Beau Paul). The most interesting thing about Paul's interpretation of Moishe, is what was not said: his internal monologue and a sideways glance revealed a tried patience, the frustrations and comic sadness of a man trying his best to make things work. To his opposite, what could be described as the village idiot, Ray, (played by Patrick Lescarbeu) who actively fights his new Jewish neighbors at every turn. Lescarbeu heightens the intensity onstage, adding a level of comedy through his blatant and absurd intolerances. Grace, the Mayor of Postville (portrayed by Kathy Rose Center) provides an anchor of rationality. She serves as a mediator between the others, giving a sense of stability and tolerance in the inevitable cultural clash. The technical aspects of the show have several fun surprises, featuring a creatively-used projector, used to help complement and set each scene. Even though the production quality of the sets was occasionally lacking, there was quite a bit of variation and the black-box stage was used well.

This production is appreciated through its subtle comedic moments and relatability to the everyman. Currently playing through August 14th, Last Act Theatre Company in partnership with the Austin Jewish Repertory Theatre have an entertaining and likable show highlighting the cultural and racial divide present throughout America, and what it takes to eventually get along and accept one another. There are lessons to be learned even today, and POSTVILLE acts as a vehicle for each of us, highlighting the struggles to love one another present in our own cities, towns, and neighborhoods.

Photo Credit: Rachel Steed

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