Now extended thru January 29!
Ghosts are sometimes our regrets and memories
|Writers Theatre i/a/w PigPen Theatre Co. presents|
|The Hunter and the Bear|
Review by John Olson
The Hunter and the Bear got a great assist from the winter weather. Coming in from a cold January night in the wilds of Glencoe (sort of wild in comparison to Chicago), one is a perfect frame of mind for this ghost story of explorers in the wild of the Pacific Northwest. We enter the Nichols space in the Writers Theatre building to hear the country/western sounds of a band comprised of the seven-person cast. Shortly one of the cast members greets the audience in character and offers to tell us a ghost story. He begins his yarn, and the PigPen Theatre cast members start to act out this devised script. It concerns a party of loggers scouting new land to harvest. They are led by a hunter, Tobias (Ben Ferguson), who is accompanied by his pre-teen son Elliott (Ryan Melia), who voices and manipulates a puppet as the boy). A stranger, Lewis (Dan Wechsler), happens upon them. Lewis claims to be a peddler whose wagon has gotten stuck some distance away. He’s looking for help and joins up with Tobias and the loggers, though they view him with some suspicion. Later Tobias and Elliot leave the group to hunt and become separated from each other. Tobias is unable to find Elliot and of course suspicions run to the stranger. Later, Elliot’s ghost appears, and explains that he was killed by a large figure – possibly a bear. The hunt for the bear begins, but takes unexpected turns that will not be revealed here. We will say, though, that the tale becomes as much a reflection on the nature of guilt and grief as it is a ghost story.
Beyond the assistance of the cold, dark night outside, the Pigpen Company and their design team create a moody, atmospheric environment that keeps the audience in suspense. Bart Cortright‘s lighting suggests a Northwest forest that’s dark and mysterious either during the few hours of winter daylight or at night, while Collette Pollard‘s set of rough hewn wooden walls, platforms and a catwalk serves the play’s variety of locations in the forest. Lydia Fine‘s costumes feel authentic for the time, place and characters. The performances all seem genuine as well – evocative of characters we’ve seen in westerns yet free of any easy stereotypes. The versatile cast is accomplished musically as well as dramatically. While the story is played as traditionally structured scenes, there is a somewhat presentational feel to the performances that is entirely appropriate.
The Hunter and the Bear, at 105 uninterrupted minutes, may be a tad long for what it has to say. The suspense lags as the story goes much past an hour and it gets hard to maintain interest based on the distinctive mood and tone alone. These are easily forgivable, fixable sins for a World Premiere, though. With just a little judicious trimming The Hunter and the Bear could have legs for a long life ahead.
The Hunter and the Bear continues through January
22nd 29th at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe (map). Tickets are $35-$80, and are available by phone (847-242-6000) or through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at WritersTheatre.org. (Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Michael Brosilow
Alex Falberg (Prescott), Ben Ferguson (Tobias), Curtis Gillen (Pete), Ryan Melia (Elliot), Matt Nuernberger (Bailey), Arya Shahi (John), Dan Wechsler (Lewis), Matt Deitchman, Addison Heimann, Matthew C. Yee (understudies)
behind the scenes
Stuart Carden and PigPen Theatre Co. (co-directors), Collette Pollard (scenic designer), Lydia Fine (costume design, puppetry), Bart Cortright (lighting designer), Mikhail Fiksel (sound designer), Scott Dickens (properties master), Thrisa Hodits (assistant director), David Castellanos (production stage manager), Janlee Boudreau (assistant stage manager), Michael Brosilow (photos)