Bay Area Theater Review: BELLWETHER (Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley)

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by Stacy Trevenon on October 22, 2011

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

AN UNFORGETTABLE FAIRY TALE FOR GROWN-UPS

Just in time for Halloween, Marin Theatre Company’s Bellwether takes its audiences into a deliciously spooky fairy tale world they won’t soon forget.

Continuing an association between MTC and former playwright-in-residence Steve Yockey, company producing director Ryan Rilette and his cast have a ball with Bellwether‘s many twists and turns. With Yockey, nothing is at it seems, and we quickly find ourselves sliding pell-mell from a staid suburban landscape into paranormal regions where reality is anything but.

Bellwether by Steve Yockey at the Marin Theatre Company – directed by Ryan Rilette – Bay Area Theater Review by Stacy TrevenonA tone of distorted normalcy is set from the start, as smiling suburban neighbors reel off the virtues of their pleasant gated community where everyone knows everyone and nothing bad ever happens. The neighbors perform like a Greek chorus, a device Yockey borrows from early Greek theatre, along with the later suggestion of an underworld that exists just below their parquet floors.

Suddenly, in this perfect world, tragedy comes with the mysterious disappearance of six-year-old Amy Draft, an event oddly foreshadowed in early chit-chat between her parents Jackie and Alan (emotionally but believably played by Arwen Anderson and Gabriel Martin). The resulting uproar rocks the community in a way that is all too familiar. The illusion of safety in this “safe” gated community vanishes, exposing its inhabitants to nightmares.

Bellwether by Steve Yockey at the Marin Theatre Company – directed by Ryan Rilette – Bay Area Theater Review by Stacy TrevenonSoon, the chorus of neighbors spreads alarm and panic, pointing fingers at The Drafts; speculation runs wild as four jaded and sensationalistic reporters bring hysteria to a boil. Rachel Harker as Maddy, the good but nosy friend whose gossip only adds to the trouble, and Mollie Stickney as a melodramatic reporter, are particularly noteworthy in their portrayals. Danny Wolohan and Patrick Jones provide occasionally over-the-top comic relief as a pair of hard-nosed detectives.

Adding to the surreal atmosphere, a spectral visitor suddenly appears in Amy’s bedroom, perhaps symbolizing both the dysfunction of the community as well as its conscience.  The tale hits full throttle when Jackie, Amy’s mother, is whisked into a giant machine by a terrifying doll (Kathryn Zdan, a master of mechanical movement) to meet an adult Amy (heartrendingly played by Jessica Lynn Carroll). The meeting of mother and daughter is moving, but it is the wrenching choice that Jackie is forced to make which has us catching out breath.

Bellwether by Steve Yockey at the Marin Theatre Company – directed by Ryan Rilette – Bay Area Theater Review by Stacy TrevenonAudio and visual effects (including Chris Houston’s sonic booms) are delightfully chilling. Twisted wisps of mist are nicely illuminated by York Kennedy’s creative lighting and dance around inside Giulio Cesare Perrone’s two-story suburban home, which also serves as the gate to that mysterious other dimension where live our greatest fears.

photos by DavidAllenStudio.com

Bellwether
Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley (San Francisco Theatre)
scheduled to end on October 30
for tickets, visit http://www.marintheatre.org

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