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A CurtainUp Review
A bit of background. This is InterAct's eighth Thomas Gibbons World Premiere. Others that have debuted at InterAct include the trilogy plays: Bee-Luther-Hatchee, Permanent Collection, and A House With No Walls . Producing Artistic director Seth Rozin shares a vision with the playwright about what theater can accomplish. InterAct produces new and contemporary plays that educate and entertain. It's their mission and they're sticking to it.
If you plan to see Silverhill it would be a good idea to see it first and read this afterward. Gibbons sets up the facts through clever exposition. Community leader, Alden Prescott, dictates responses to letters asking about the Silverhill community. As Prescott explains for our benefit, a young helper, Howard, writes.
This is Bible communism, not just "communism of property but also communism of the affections."The spirit and the flesh are both attended to in "loving fellowship." And they do mean loving. They are a formalized, but pretty randy group. "Each time we join ourselves to a saint, we release ourselves to him." At one point, as the congregation enjoys a homily in the foreground, a scene of robust yet modestly attired, creaky-bed lovemaking takes place upstage.
Silverhill is a working concern and they sell their wares — apples, honey, and textiles. The money supports the 200-some members who never see a dime. The play's young agent of change, Frank, wasn't born into the community. He'd seen something of the world as a lad. As Silverhill's agent, he visits major East Coast cities and takes orders for their wares. Worldly ways beckon. How ya gonna keep em down on the farm? Now he returns with thoughts of boosting production.
Silverhill has no paragons. The God-commissioned leader is set up early with feet of clay. He chastises a young man who has "fallen into exclusivity" with a woman, yet reserves those rights for himself, above community law. Isn't that just the numero uno problem when conceptual communism meets communism on the ground? And the boss disengages during a crisis, much like some capitalist presidents will tend to do.
The equation is loaded on both ends: The capitalist mutiny, when it happens, wouldn't even come up on Donald Trump's radar. They go for a modest utopian capitalism, where the work of the whole is rewarded with shares of the assets. Frank says they will flourish " with God walking with us, as we multiply our accounts on earth, he will multiply our accounts in heaven. " Silverhill transforms from Bible-benevolent fascism to an egalitarian agro-capitalism that remains communal.
One might expect a lost innocence theme here. But playwright Gibbons thwarts that easy assumption. The community works together and sings and shares, but the audience is given a glimpse of the problems that have been festering inside the gates of utopia.
Lead actor Christopher Coucill, new to an InterAct production, is a completely believable Prescott. Nancy Boykin, as Prescott's wife is a strong actress who can handle the long monologue given her late in the second act. Tim Moyer, an InterAct stalwart, lends his inimitable, idiosyncratic style to his role as the second in command. Dan Hodge's Frank the capitalist is all fire and energy, and Pierce Craven's unpretentious and meticulous acting enlarges the role of Howard. Both Jessica Dalcanton and Mary Tuomanen absolutely become their very different characters through delineated, solid acting.
Nick Embree's well designed set is rustic except for the dominant metal gate that can swing back and disappear as needed. Rosemarie McKelvey's era-appropriate costumes are attractive with a homespun look. The three women wear handsome country dresses, each in a different color. Although it's claimed that everything is shared including clothing, each woman wears the same dress all the time, as if it were her private property.
Gibbons's work has been characterized by complexity and the airing of differing points of view, and Silverhill is no exception. With a skilled and experienced writer, extremely well-cast actors, and a committed and accomplished director, the play accumulates power, and the views expressed by the characters never come across as cardboard cutout mouthing. This new play is a fine old fashioned, timeless piece of theater.