Guest Columns

HUDSON: PLAY SET IN SMALL RURAL COLORADO TOWN

Charm — and problems — of small town America played out in DCPA?production

“Eventide” by Eric Schmiedl, adapted from the novel by Kent Haruf, and directed by Kent Thompson. Playing through Feb. 27 at the DCPA.

The Denver Center Company has followed up last season’s resonant production of Kent Haruf’s “Plainsong” with an adaptation of his sequel. The story unfolds once again somewhere on the Eastern plains of Colorado in the fictional, rural community of Holt. The ranching McPheron brothers, who took in the pregnant, teenage Victoria in “Plainsong,” are ushering her out of their farmhouse and off to college at CSU in Fort Collins. Now in their 70s, Harold and Raymond are the same irascible pair that captured audiences with their humorous patter last season.

Therefore, it comes as something of a shock when Harold is killed by a rogue bull at the end of the first act. Haruf remains single-mindedly focused on driving home his thesis that it takes a genuine community effort to properly care for its members. For those familiar with Haruf’s books, the McPheron boys were orphaned, but with the help of neighbors went on to build and operate a successful cattle operation. They ‘paid it back’ by nurturing Victoria and her daughter.

Raymond, in a mesmerizing performance by Mike Hartman, is now aided by two schoolteachers, who take over his chores, as he recovers from a broken leg suffered in the accident that felled his brother. A pair of subplots includes a young boy who is caring for the grandfather who is his guardian, and a family where the developmentally disabled parents struggle to raise their two children. The mother, Betty June, portrayed in a heartbreaking performance by Leslie O’Carroll, has already lost an older daughter to the social service system. Her situation is complicated by her bullying, ne’er do well uncle who forces his way into the Wallace family home when he loses his job and then swiftly begins abusing the children.

Lauren Klein tenderly plays the long-time, widowed town social worker, Rose Tyler. She is introduced to Raymond by the school teachers and a romance blossoms for the cranky bachelor. Victoria comes home for a few months to care for Raymond, but then returns to Fort Collins where she finds a boyfriend who she takes back to Holt for Raymond’s approval. Raymond soon whispers to Victoria, “He’s a ‘keeper.’”

Raymond meets the young boy, “DJ,” at the bar where his grandfather hangs out when his social security check arrives at the first of each month. He hires him on to work weekends at the McPheron ranch. Rose finally has to remove the Wallace children from their home and place them in foster care because the parents are unequipped and unable to protect them from their loutish Uncle Hoyt. It breaks her heart, because she knows they mean well and truly love their kids. We are assured that as soon as the sheriff can put Hoyt behind bars again, the children will be returned. However, when Betty June’s troubled older daughter shows up unexpectedly, she also disrupts the family and it becomes unclear what the fate of this fragile little family will be.

“Eventide” tells all these parallel stories within a jarring, stroboscopic structure, where sets quickly and quietly shift for each new scene and a fresh group of characters advances their respective threads within the larger tale. Each compact set, tight and spare, sits in the center of the rolling Eastern plains depicted, lonely and lovely, on an expanse of artful flats.

Haruf would have us believe that small town America better handles the stresses and challenges that modern life throws at us, and his Holt, Colorado, is a caring place, to be sure. Whether it corresponds with reality requires a leap of faith. We want to believe that small, intimate
communities produce better lives for their members. Our headlines remind us that rural children continue to migrate to Colorado’s cities, abandoning farm life for urban opportunities. We also read that our agricultural fabric is being ripped by meth epidemics and farm bankruptcies. Nonetheless, for three hours, this truer-than-life fairy tale and its honorable residents captivate us
with a vision that ought to be true.

Miller Hudson has contributed periodic theater reviews to The Statesman for nearly 30 years.