Thursday, February 11, 2010

Theater Review: Eventide

Their Town

By Rebecca Jessup

Mark Twain wrote in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, “When one writes a novel about grown people, he knows exactly where to stop—that is, with a marriage; but when he writes of juveniles, he must stop where he best can.” Eventide is about juveniles, adults and a community; it starts, continues and stops where it best can. Like real life, it is not entirely tidy, and not all issues are resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

Eventide, adapted from the novel by Kent Haruf, continues the stories of several characters from the author’s earlier work, Plainsong, and is set in the same place—Holt, a fictional small town on the eastern plains of Colorado. The main two characters in the opening scene are the McPheron brothers, Harold and Raymond, senior citizens who live on their cattle ranch with a young woman named Victoria and her very young daughter. Victoria occupies the position of a daughter to the two brothers, although she is not related by blood. Their nearest neighbor is a mile and a half away. Neither of the brothers has ever married, or lived anywhere else than the ranch that was homesteaded by their grandparents, but they encourage Victoria to go off to college in Fort Collins.

The voices, speech patterns and dialogue, especially of the two brothers, are brilliantly authentic. The life of a small farming and ranching town is duplicated in the spare scenery and furniture, the costumes, the painted backdrop, and the rat-a-tat patter of a cattle auctioneer, the whine of country music at a dance in the Legion hall. The profound connection of the two brothers is immediately evident, even to someone unfamiliar with Haruf’s novels. The haunting music by Gary Grundei evokes the West. The action is drawn forward by cast members who stand on the stage but not in the scene and narrate, like the narrator in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Their voices add to the impression of small-town life, of events flowing through and connecting the lives of the people. Because the Stage Theatre is in the round, characters enter and exit by walking down the aisles past the audience, enhancing the sense of immediacy.

The play revolves around the precariousness of life and the struggles of a small community in the vast, flat land. Harold dies, and Raymond grieves and adjusts with the help of Victoria and two friends, Tom and Maggie. Other residents of the town include Luther and Betty June Wallace, a good-hearted but mentally challenged couple who are ultimately unable to protect their two beloved children from Hoyt Raines, the most menacing presence in the town. Other characters include Betty June’s older daughter, who has run away from foster care; Rose Tyler, a kind and intelligent social worker who helps the Wallaces; Linda Mae, a nurse who has lived in Holt for less than a year, and who makes a falsely positive first impression; and DJ Kephart, a hyper-responsible 11-year-old orphan who takes care of his sickly grandfather. DJ does his homework in the local bar, watched over by the barmaid, when his grandfather has cashed his monthly check.

The lives of these people and families touch or fail to touch, intertwine, and sometimes unravel in truthful and affecting ways. In the end, some things resolve and some do not; some glad things come to pass, and some sad ones. We come to care about these people, and we leave them as best we can.

  • The Denver Center Theatre Company’s Eventide, by Eric Schmiedl, based on the novel by Kent Haruf, directed by Kent Thompson. Starring Philip Pleasants and Mike Hartman as Harold and Raymond McPheron, David Ivers and Leslie O’Carroll as Luther and Betty June Wallace, William Zilinski as Hoyt Raines, Lauren Klein as Rose Tyler, and Augustus Lane Filholm as DJ Kephart. Through Feb. 27 at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

Rebecca Jessup ( is a freelance writer and Latin teacher.

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