Review: Take a Stand for EMINENT DOMAIN

By: Aug. 25, 2017

Once in awhile you see a play that is uncomfortable. It's too real. It feels like all the stuff you left behind and aren't sure you want to relive. That play to me is Laura Leininger-Campbell's brilliant work, EMINENT DOMAIN. I am not sure when I last saw a production that felt more like eavesdropping than being entertained.

EMINENT DOMAIN tells the story of Nebraska farmers wrestling with the government who is about to claim part of their land to install an oil pipeline four feet beneath the surface of the sandy, alkaline soil. This is not just about politics. This is not just about whether it is fair for the government or private enterprise to confiscate the home of generations of people who have built their lives on this piece of land. This is about family and relationships and getting through the hard times. This is about choices and consequences. This is about love and loss, pain and healing. This is about life.

Directed by Amy Lane, this cast is stellar. They aren't even acting. They effortlessly embody the MacLeods and lawyers living out their drama. There will be awards...lots of awards...for this production.

Bill Hutson as Rob MacLeod is mesmerizing. His timing, his delivery, his facial expressions and tone...all are incredible. As the head of his family, Rob can spout Bible passages and profanity with equanimity. He is hardheaded, but despite himself, he is also big hearted. He loves his children, but is terrible at showing it, refusing to recognize their special needs and talents. Bart, played by Jeremy Estill, is a poet stuck in ill-fitting farm clothing living out his father's life. His sister Adair, portrayed by Erika Hall Seiff, strikes the perfect balance between independent attorney and farm girl who craves her father's approval. Rob shows his crotchety side along with a wicked sense of humor. His irreverence is an unhappy moment for me as he throws ugly words at God, but perhaps that is necessary in showing his extreme mental turmoil after losing his wife Billy to cancer and now potentially part of his farm.

Rob's brother Cam MacLeod (Cork Ramer) is a stabilizing force. He is stalwart and steady, a calmer presence in the face of Rob's chaos. His wife Jane (Judy Radcliff) is a contradiction. She tries to hold the family together, yet wedges them apart with little things like making ham balls when she knows Bart's wife Theresa (Christina Rohling) is preparing Billy's recipe. She is the person who is superficially nicer than her inner being.

Eric Salonis is endearing as the emotionally challenged Evan MacLeod. His presence in the family is a calming one, conjuring the memory of Billy and singing "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" whenever things get messy. When Evan gets upset, the bickering halts...for the time being. His devotion to the watch Billy had given him is indicative of how time and change are inevitable. No matter how tightly you grip the present you cannot hold back time.

Rounding out the cast are Chris Shonka as the Canadian Energy representative Trent Nichols who is trying his best to achieve the company objective while mollifying the MacLeods. He continues to protest that he is just an instrument of the company. Christina Rohling's Theresa, or Terry as the MacLeods call her, is invisible, yet she carries a bucket load of emotion that spills out when it is just too much. She appreciates the significance of someone calling her by her full name. Mateusz Wojciechowski (Thomas Becker) is the polished Polish attorney working with Adair to beat the claim of eminent domain and save the farm, possibly saving Adair in the process.

Every person in this cast is perfection.

Jim Othuse's set is a fine piece of art, with painted walls and tufts of grass beneath the porch, and is accented just right with his lighting. Sound is amazing! John Gibilisco creates thunderstorms and spins Michael Campbell's music that you can feel...Scottish tunes and chaotic drumbeats. The overall effect is magic.

Finally, I need to talk about Leininger-Campbell's script. I can't find my words to express how impressed- how moved I was by her words. She is a brilliant writer. I was constantly feeding on her word pictures: "the blades of grass rising up a little taller before the storm." Her humor: "the mental constitution of a wet cat." Her symbolism: "We got a storm coming." Her command of the English language and the easy way she strings it all together is inspiring. She is the poet Bart (good name as 'bard' is a travelling poet.) This is a well crafted, well thought out work that goes beyond a good story. It explains the pipeline issues, complete with facts and figures, but in such a way that you don't feel you are being lectured. This is a piece that matters.

I loved this play. Loved it. It only takes one person to take a stand so others will follow. I take a standing ovation for EMINENT DOMAIN.

Photo credit: Colin Conces


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