Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Atomic Farmgirl

Teri Hein's memoir about growing up on a farm "accidentally" being irradiated by a nearby atomic plant in the '50s and '60s is a real American tragedy: the unwitting effects of our own ingenuity (and the more sinister implications of our knowledge) on a hearty family of six. This sprawling saga crams in the growing pains of four sisters, the hardships of farm life (especially in sickness), and the guilt of the living, and overreaches only when it taps Native American mythos to force through an unnecessary parallel. The multi-decade sweep of the narrative isn't what sells the show, however, nor the acting, which often seems half-assed (save for a few, like Maria McConville). Instead, it's the rich little details -- Mona sees herself as patriotic because there's a tumor in her head the size of a baseball -- and the homey, era-appropriate anecdotes (about milk-bottle-shaped buildings) that yield the most nutritious scenes. C. Denby Swanson's adaptation is well-intentioned, so even though the Native American apparitions don't do much for the show, the attempt to draw out a parallel theme is clear, and though there's not much drama in one character talking to a ghost, director Brooke Brod milks it for what it's worth. I'm convinced there's an excellent family drama in there, and the production has a lot of value, so I'm still recommending it, but I do hope The Drilling Company continues to work on this play. It'd be a shame for it to only have a half-life.

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