BWW Review: THE HEARTLAND - A Mixed Bag
THE VINEYARD by Nicole Oglesby and produced by Heartland Theatre Collective plays its final performance at Trinity Street Theatre on November 10th.
The five person play revolves around a cult like group that inhabits a vineyard just outside of Austin, Texas. Clocking in at a fashionable 90 minutes, the plot twists and turns, revealing information here and there, but ends up going nowhere. The cult is led by surgeon and research scientist Kevin (Will Gibson Douglas). Susanna (Khali McDuff-Sykes), the heart of the group, brings lost soul Joan (Rosalind Faires) into the fold without telling her the real reason for being at the vineyard isn't just to make wine. She meets fellow seekers of peace, Leo (Brennan Patrick) and Georgia (Brooke Ashley Eden). The real reason for the remote group is human experimentation, or what is called 'bio-hacking' by playwright Oglesby. Suzanna has been given wings and believes she has been transformed into an angel. Other members are awaiting their own transformation. What follows is a series of personal conflicts between the characters but eventually the property is sold by Kevin's family and the clan scatters to the wind. With no final revelations, and no central message the piece has an unfinished feel. Its script, sometimes pointless and meandering that fails a solid cast and director. Oglesby's storyline tries hard to be shocking and provocative but ends up in a mishmash of uninteresting, jerky scenes. Despite the valiant efforts of director Marian Kansas, the multiple scenes feel awkward and busy. Her staging is innovative given the need for an elevated operating table on stage and the challenges of maneuvering actors around it.
If THE VINEYARD has a saving grace it's the cast. As the manic, driven (we are never told what he's driven by) doctor Will Douglas is always fascinating to watch. As the most conflicted character, he is faced with an uphill battle in an under fleshed role. Rosalind Faires is engaging as the damaged stranger and newcomer to the cult. Her confusion is palpable as is her need for human contact. As the mysterious angel hybrid Khali McDuff-Sykes is fluid and graceful, maintaining the attraction she shows to all the other characters with a slightly false air. You're never quite sure if she loves one, all, or none. Brennan Patrick as a recovering addict, is sincere and soulful. What is done to him by the experiments is perhaps the most cruel because Patrick infuses Leo with such vulnerability and an innate sadness that grips the heart.
THE VINEYARD's concept is interesting and perhaps a workshop, to flesh out characters and fill in the plot, may have been a better choice than a full production. But I look forward to seeing what Heartland Theatre Collective produces as they grow and settle in to the Austin theatre community.
by Nicole Oglesby
Directed by Marian Kansas
Heartland Theatre Collective at Trinity Street Theatre