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BWW Review: A Stunning COLONY COLLAPSE Makes For a Completely Engrossing Honey of a Production


COLONY COLLAPSE/by Stefanie Zadravec/directed by Jessica Kubzansky/The Theatre @ Boston Court/thru March 20, 2016

The world premiere of playwright Stefanie Zadravec's entrancing COLONY COLLAPSE receives an ingenious audience-immersive staging as the 50th mainstage production of The Theatre @ Boston Court. Jessica Kubzansky firm-handedly directs her cast of ten stellar acting talents in the hold-your-breath interlinking stories of the surviving parents of children gone missing.

COLONY COLLAPSE opens with an intense, involving scene of seamless, overlapping lines of dialogue from the four missing children's parents, each oh-so painfully describing the moments leading up to each of their child's disappearance. John Nobori's moody music certainly heightens the doomed, despairing outcomes of their respective situations.

With just a short moment for the audience to resume normal breathing, the second scene introduces the main 'family unit' of this tale. Mark (a convicted felon) and Julia (a recovering addict) have relocated from the city to farm an apple orchard. Mark's estranged son Jason (the cause of Mark's incarceration) shows up unexpectedly one night scaring his step-mom Julia. Julia, once realizing the intruder's not a burglar and recognizing Mark's no-longer-a-teenager son, attempts to welcome him with open arms. Not so, Jason's father. The tense air permeates the impromptu reunion of this three sitting at the dining table. Lots of intriguing baggage needs to be resolved between them. Seems that Jason has just stopped living with his junkie mom Nicky (Mark's ex). On top of this untimely get-together, the search for one of the missing girls' targeting Mark and Julia's vicinity.

Riley Neldam dominates the stage as prodigal son Jason. Neldam's pitch perfect as the unwanted stimulus/responsibility Mark really doesn't need at this moment in time. Neldam easily exhibits Jason's street smart naiveté, his longing for paternal affection, his desires for physical connections. Neldam's what-seems-endless, stoned blurt-out scene's simply tour de force. As high as Jason has reached, Neldam's Jason still makes a whole lot of sense.

Chris Conner and Sally Hughes spar so realistically as Mark and Julia, struggling to keep their past addictions and current low finances in control. Both convincing being alternately passionate, frustrated, loving, supportive, and combative - just like an old married couple.

Emily James brings much light-hearted fun and humor to her rather serious role of the missing girl's ghost who breaks the fourth wall to address the audience directly. Through her eyes, hindsight surely is 20/20 as she relates the parallels of the bee colony with the human colony/community she's been abducted from. Of course, other than the audience, the only human who can see her would be Jason during one of his reefer highs. Very innovative staging has James narrating from spaces above the actual physical stage; in a 'floating' black box upstage, atop a downstage tree; and, the absolute best, above the audience spread out on her stomach on the lighting grid. A wonderful visual of a human bee in a human-sized honeycomb. Such a stroke of genius!!!

Paula Christensen totally succeeds in her unsympathetic role of the pathetic Nicky, the still drugged out, barely attentive mother of Jason. But Jason stills loves and cares for her. He just can't live with her and be responsible for her hallucinations any more.

The rest of the talented ensemble get their individual moments to shine: Jully Lee as the mother who wouldn't hold her little boy's sticky hand for fear of dirtying her new dress. Tracey A. Leigh as an autistic boy's mom who finally got a chance to take an afternoon nap, but left the backdoor open. Her husband played by Leandro Cano continuously tells her not to blame herself. Adrian Gonzalez limns the father who does continuously blames himself for allowing his son to walk home alone from school. Both Cano and Gonzales double as insensitive, investigating sheriffs, 180 degrees opposite personalities of their caring, compassionate father characters. Julie Cardia inhabits the mom who tired of fighting with her combative teenage daughter, tells her not to come home. Lee, Leigh and Cardia lay bare the less revealed perspective of being on the receiving end of people's sympathy, condemnation, pity and tsk-tsk-ing. These women have to sneak around to get on with their 'normal' lives. Seemingly concerned neighbors don't allow them to stop mourning or waiting for their missing children to return.

Kudos to lighter designer Karyn Lawrence's remarkable lighting effects including/incorporating the audience. As an exploring helicopter flies overhead, its strong searchlights encompass the audience, as well as the performers on stage. When a search party goes into the dark woods, all stage lights go off with only synchronized flashlight beams pointing at the audience. Lawrence's lighting morphs the camouflage netting hung at the stage's edges, at one point into stars in the sky, or into dark brown tree trunks, at others. The camouflage netting, together with wood-slated flooring, a house frame background and basic pieces of furniture effectively comprise scenic designer Susan Gratch's versatile, utilitarian set.


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