THE 1947 FORDBy Ellsworth Schave
One Thirty Productions
Festival of Independent Theatres
Directed by Gene Raye Price
Set Design by Theresa Furphy
Costume Design by Marty Van Kleeck
Sound Design by Theresa Furphy
Puppet by Doug Burke
Scenic Artists – Theresa Furphy and Roxanne Mathers
Cameron McElyea – Bud
Larry Randolph – Old Man
Mary Margaret Pyaett – The Hummingbird
David Meglino – The Crow
Stewart Milkkelsen – Puppeteer
Photos by Marty Van Kleeck
Reviewed Performance: 6/9/2013
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The 1947 Ford is the third of a trilogy of plays from Texas playwright, Ellsworth Schave. One Thirty Productions fancies his works and has produced several of them over the years.
Schave stories tend to stick around our state, writing about Texas romances, the Brazos River and more.
And he seems to like automobiles a lot, writing about a turquoise Pontiac, a Texaco gas station, and now a 1947 Ford. Except that none of these plays has much, if anything, to do with those things. Most are dream-like, fantasy pieces delving into mystical places of his imagination. Part Twin Peaks, part Twilight Zone, Schave jumps right into the middle and insists that the audience keep up while the action washes over them like the ripples of a cool Texas lake.
In this play, the audience finds themselves in a desert at sunset, the deepening colors fading into thousands of stars as an unseen car pulls up and a cowboy sets up his supplies for coffee and an evening underneath the huge sky. Using the name Roy Bedichek (an actual Texas naturalist and a tongue in cheek insert for Schave), Bud is a reporter, gone undercover, and looking for an elusive “country club of souls” to be found somewhere out there. Sitting on the limb of a dead tree, a mocking crow prophesizes Bud’s fate while a desert hummingbird seduces him into slumber. Upon awakening, he is given eternal choices on how to find God, and his search might stem from a drug-induced coma, a dream, or a journey into the afterlife.
Vagueness is Schave’s game and the options remain plentiful.
For a festival production, in which sets must be as minimalist as possible for easy breakdown and storage between performances, Theresa Furphy’s design was rather complex and strikingly beautiful. A full-width back cyc, flowering cacti, large boulders and painted cloth tarp representing the desert floor placed the audience squarely in the play’s location. Her creativity took a small leap with the addition of tree canopies tracked out from the wings and a pulley system to raise a doorway and move large urns into position, instantly changing desert to resort oasis.
All of the little details, such as ancient markings on the boulders and the fire ring suddenly turned into a sundial added to the aura of the play.
Marty Van Kleeck’s costumes ran a rather wide gamut for such a play. Bud donned typical cowboy clothing of shirt, jeans, boots and hat, all in even hues of beige. Old Man, seen in the country club, had on similar beige tones with the addition of a pale yellow fishing vest. Where Van Kleeck had more fun was in costuming The Hummingbird. A knee-length gown of shimmery copper/maroon with glittery shoulder and neck feathers and decorated leggings made for one beautiful bird. The addition of a Commedia dell’Arte long-beaked face mask lent an ominious yet sexual connotation.
No credit was given for lighting but the varying shades of sunset, slowly fading to a deep blue, and the quick blackouts with each sudden realization of Bud’s journey, effectively set the audience in the various locations and helped keep the action understandable. The star formation on the back cyc was simple yet breathtaking, and for a short while looked like a projection on top of the lighting, expanding the feeling of a universe of starlight.
FIT’s canned curtain speech message with Bob Marley’s “Everything's Gonna Be Alright” set a humorous tone for what was to come. Kristin and Robert McCollum’s audio production placement of coyote howl, heartbeat, wind chimes and hospital equipment beep accentuated scenes in their simplicity.
Cameron McElyea made a nice-looking man out in the wilderness. His voice had an easy gait to it, making him a good choice to portray “everyman” in the existential travels of the play.
Though his lines were delivered a bit unnaturally, as one who was reading rather than living them in the moment, he relaxed into the story after awhile and gave more realism to his character.
Larry Randolph had a smaller but significant role as Old Man, one of a supposed many to find their way to the country club. Movements and memory were equally slow and unsteady and Randolph added snippets of fear and regret to his character, therefore layering richness to Old Man’s, and our own, search for answers.
Hummingbird, or the seductress in the play, was portrayed and danced by Mary Margaret Pyaett. Lithe in body and flowing naturally around the set, her character commanded both attention and mystery.
Though the playwright never divulged much about any of his characters,
other than Bud, The Hummingbird somehow made sense in her role as storyteller, shaman and siren.
The Crow, perched in the tree, the joke being one of Bud’s tin coffee cups by his side, was portrayed by puppeteer Stewart Milkkelsen. A couple of bare arm appearances were quickly fixed, and The Crow’s uproarious, auditory cackling was hilariously voiced by David Meglino.
The 1947 Ford is a journey, not a destination play. One will not walk out with definitive answers to questions that may or may not have been asked.
I can be most certain, though, that further discussion will arise, with a theatre-going friend or other audience members. And that is the style of theatre I relish most, the kind that continues on long after the curtain call is given and the quietness of the theatre sets in.
Click on a show title to read reviews from other shows at the Festival:
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LYDIE MARLAND IN THE AFTERLIFE
By Isabella Russell-Ides
Wingspan Theatre Company
By Eve Ensler
Echo Theatre Company
By John Michael Colgin
ASK QUESTIONS LATER
By John Michael Colgin
by Meggie Spalding
Rite of Passage Theatre Company
THE 1947 FORD
By Ellsworth Schave
One Thirty Productions