On an increasingly busy stretch of Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, the recently opened Dryades Theater premiered the fascinating new work Runnin' Down the Mountain. The auditorium is spare, but pleasant.
The mountains in this original piece are the Appalachians. Philip Rogers Cramer, the head writer and co-star of the play, is from North Carolina. Creation of the piece is credited to all of the production team.
The action starts in darkness and chaos. We hear running footsteps, heaving breathing and a man calling for Margaret. There's no telling what's going on until the end, when we learn the whole play was a flashback. This delay in explaining mysteries is typical of the storytelling.
Bear Hebert's semi-abstract set suggests a room in a cabin. On one side of the stage, there are two musicians, Hannah Pepper-Cunningham and Sean LaRocca, who play various instruments during the piece, but primarily violin and guitar, respectively.
When the lights come up, Everett Riddle (Cramer) and his sister Margaret (Lisa Shattuck) appear as if in concert before an applauding audience. They sing a country-Western tune that sets the tone for all that follows. Their mother died and their dad abandoned them. They sing well and their performance is spirited, and it's their spirited manner and belief in what they are doing that carries us through many baffling moments and distracts us during long periods of silence.
Summarizing the story would make the piece seem tedious or meager, and it is neither. Tensions simmer to the boiling point between the isolated siblings. Since their father left to become a truck driver, Everett and Margaret have tended a farm with chickens and a peach orchard. Margaret lives with the illusion her dad will come back for her and that she will study business in college. She frequently calls his trucking company and leaves messages about being accepted to Harvard or other prestigious universities. Everett ridicules her dreams and worries that insects will destroy their peaches. He is obsessed with a broken cassette tape containing his mother's voice, which he is able to play in small stretches.
In and around these conflicts, the play abounds in odd happenings. At supper, the siblings don't speak, instead creating complicated rhythms with knives and forks. Sometimes they talk to each other through microphones.
This inventive production would be improved by a tighter focus and reducing its two-hour run time.
Many thanks to the Dryades Theater and New Noise productions. Director Joanna Russo, her team, the musicians and the two fine actors did an impressive job. I hope they bring back Runnin' Down the Mountain. — DALT WONK