BWW Review: VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE IS A STORY WORTH TELLING at Lofte Community Theatre
A play detailing the pioneer days of radio and a storyteller who found fame along the magic airwaves of the ether, Voice of the Prairie played at the Lofte Community Theatre May 31-June 9th.
The cast, comprised of five men and two women, James Nygren, Peyton Banks, Mark Fahey, Ken Snyder, Gary Williams, Alyssa Riha, and Erin Spencer, play multiple characters with ease. They each narrate a story that depicts life in the olden days and a chance meeting of two friends separated over the years. A series of flashbacks occur between 1895-1923. The play is set in the Sandhills on the barren prairies of Nebraska. David Quinn, (James Nygren), one of the first storytellers on the radio, tells anecdotes of his memories from when he was a boy. Memories of the past and present day depict dangerous adventures and the unlikely pairing of a friendship. Each memory recalled is another segue into a story, with perhaps a little embellishment added, who's to say. Directed by Kevin Colbert, the play is intricately woven with flashbacks and monologues that connect the characters and their relationships to each other. It's the kind of play that comes full circle.
Intended for a bare stage and portable set, the scenery displays wooden constructs; a house or a barn, or a wooden railroad platform. Some of the design is left to the imagination but that is what makes this piece of theatre abstract, a metaphor for memories, and how they can fade with time. The opening act sets the scene in the past with young Davey (Payton Douglas Banks) and Poppy, (Ken Snyder), an Irishman, as they travel together on their journeys. He has a penchant for whisky and of course, telling stories.
Skip ahead to the Sandhills of Nebraska in the booming 1920's. Leon Schwab, (Mark Fahey), hears David regale a tale about his old Poppy, a hobo he accompanied as a teen. He asks him to come on the radio to tell his story, which makes for a great segment for entertainment value. David Quinn is reluctant and shy at first, but manages to tell a story about the eccentric Irish father figure he tagged along with who used to tell some hearty tales of his own. David makes history as the first farmer storyteller on the radio. "The magic of the ether is the wave of the future." Leon, a bit of a swindler on his radio show, makes his rounds around the region and runs the station without a license. Fahey intrigues with a Brooklyn accent and nonchalant demeanor as a smooth talking but amicable con man.
As a boy Davey meets Frankie, (Alyssa Riha), a blind girl who has a drunk abusive father and a mother who died. Frankie is spirited and flirtatious and takes to Davey immediately after accusing him of being a horse and chicken thief. As their friendship grows he affectionately refers to him as "Irish." Although he is not visible to her she can see him-read him- and intuitively sense his emotions. Together they run away and seek out adventure jumping from the roofs of trains to hiding out in boxcars and old abandoned buildings. There is a reward for Frankie's capture, but in her mind, she is invisible as a romanticized runaway fugitive. The world is blind.
Fade back from the past to present day in the second act and Frankie, now Francis Reed, is a spinster teacher who recognizes the stories and David's admission on the radio. Frankie and Davey reconnect after years of separation when she hears him tell stories of their past.
Payton Douglas Banks is endearing as the young Davey Quinn, and Frankie (Alyssa Riha) is spirited and flirtatious. The two play well off each other and their chemistry is innocent and charming to watch unfold. James Nygren as David Quinn plays a believable, shy, older version of Davey, and relays the stories he tells on the radio like he was there. Erin Spencer as Susie is comical and as Francis portrays the strength of a blind woman who has experienced trauma and loss. A little somber at times yet still light-hearted, Voice of the Prairie reflects upon the nostalgias of childhood and the challenges that we sometimes face in life.