Tuesday August 22nd 2017

“Floyd Collins”

I am convinced that BoHo Theatre:Bohemian Theatre Ensemble is one of our brighter troupes, one that takes on enormous challenges eash season, and while their current production, “Floyd Collins” is a bit too dark and far to long ( almost 2 1/2 hours), I admire them for taking on this big production on a very small budget. With a book by Tina Landau and Music and Lyrics by Adam Guettel, “Floyd Collins” is a folk operetta based on the true story that took place from January, 30th thru February 16th in 1925 in Kentucky. Floyd Collins ( deftly played by Jim DeSelm, who has a strong voice and great stage presence), a farmer sees an opportunity to market a cave on the property as a tourist attraction, but as he works into the depths of the land, gets trapped by a heavy boulder.

The opening is small and very few people can get down to him. A reporter’s articles starts drawing people to the scene and the area becomes a carnival of sorts with many selling food, balloons and such to all the visitors. During all this, The Collins family is in deep distress as they fear for his life. What this story tells us is that people will come to witness tragedy and some will profit from same. These were times of economic troubles and yet people came from all the surrounding states and many prayed for his rescue. The book is based on fact, but there is no way to truly know what was going on in the mind of Floyd himself or his family, other than what reporters may have written ( to sell papers, who knows how factual they were). Landau takes us into her interpretation of what he may have been thinking about as he waited to see his fate.

While the story is told, in many ways, it is far to slow and the music difficult to sing for some of the actors.The set(Diane D. Fairchild, who also handled the lighting design) is one of great creativity as we can feel the hills and dirt of the area and the caves and passageways, in some cases, almost seem real. We never see the actual boulder that pins Floyd’s legs, and yet we do see the efforts to free him, in a sort of pantomime way. The sound is a bit muffled as the musicians, behind the main stage area are often a bit louder than the performers can project over. This doesn’t happen when DeSelm or Jon Harrison ( who plays younger brother Homer Collins to perfection), but in many other cases, it is difficult to catch every word and in a story-telling musical piece, the words are important to the story we are being told.

Director Peter Marston Sullivan uses the stage at Theater Wit to full advantage and Allison Hendrix and her four musicians handle the music with great expertise. This is  music that kind of puts country and rural,mountain jug music together and often there are sounds being made in song that make no sense.There are some flashback scenes that are also difficult to comprehend and I am not sure why the book has those, but I saw many audience members who became confused when Collins, who was pinned by a boulder hopped back up to the stage and sang and danced with his brother to end the first act and with his sister Nellie ( Sarah Bockel) in Act Two.

“The Dream”, an ensemble number in the second act was a bit confuing as well as it appears that Floyd has been rescued and re-united with family and friends, but as we find out, it is in fact, a dream sequence. The reporters number that starts the second act,”Is That Remarkable” handled by Benjamin Kirkberger, Tom McGunn and Nathan Carroll is hysterical and wonderfully presented ( a highlight, for sure).For the most part the music is challenging for the cast but they get the job done. I would prefer a shorter story without an intermission as the time between the acts takes focus away from the action for an audience that loves to use the ten minutes to check messages, make a few calls and then forget to turn the damn cell phone off. The opening of the second act and getting back into the action was made difficult by the phones turning off and the lights highlighting the audience members, but the actors withstood the challenge.

This story is one of family and how they bond together more than how the others react and take advantage of a situation. We can see the brotherly love between the two brothers and the love between Nellie and Floyd as well. The parents, concerned for their son are not given as much to say, but Christa Buck  and Russell Alan Rowe showed the compassion that one would expect under the strain of what they were experiencing. Perhaps this show can be redone in the future with a few snips here and there and I will change my opinion- right now it is far to long for my appetite. “Floyd Collins” will continue at Theater Wit, 1229 West Belmont through July 15th with performances as follows:

Thursday,Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 1:30 p.m.

Tickets range from $22-$28 ( not much more than a movie ticket, for live theater! what a deal!) and can be purchased by calling 773-975-8150 or online at www.bohotheatre.com This is a General Admission show, so it is suggested that you arrive early for better seating. Beverages can be taken into the theater.There is street parking as well as valet parking and if you enjoy a dinner at Coopers, they have free parking.

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