(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Andrew J. Friedenthal.)
As the Halloween season approaches, some people celebrate through putting together elaborate costumes and dumping pumpkin spice onto everything from kale to nachos. At Hyde Park Theatre, the Halloween spirit is in full effect in the company’s production of Greg Pierce’s “The Quarry,” running through October 24.
At first glance, “The Quarry” seems to be a traditional family drama, shown subjectively through the eyes of Jean, our protagonist and narrator. Jean calls forth memories, ghosts, and confrontations, gradually unrolling a narrative that becomes ever more eerie and potentially supernatural.
Katherine Catmull plays Jean with quiet strength, remaining on stage for the entire 80-minute play and effectively setting its tone. Jean is a woman on the edge, both figuratively and literally. Her house is positioned on the edge of a quarry, an apt metaphor for how Jean herself is teetering on the precipice of sanity.
Other characters who populate the world of “The Quarry,” including Jean’s family and the citizens of the small Vermont town in which she lives, are brought to life by the rest of the cast. Ken Webster, who directs this production, portrays the ghost/memory of Jean’s curious, charming husband Sammy, along with several other townsfolk. Chase Brewer plays the younger men of the town, including the mayor’s son and, most impressively, a nerdy archeologist overcome by the stagnant malevolence that comes to inhabit the quarry.
The standout amongst the cast, however, is Jess Hughes, who has several stunning moments in the play. As Jean’s estranged daughter, Clara, she evokes a young woman coming to terms with a malignant rage. As the young girl Leah – whose disappearance is one of the primary, and most off-putting, parts of the plot – she exudes innocence and charm. In other, smaller roles, she shows the extent of her range and power, commanding the audience in whatever persona she takes on.
The weakest point of “The Quarry,” however, is its score. Randal Pierce’s musical accompaniment for a solo pianist – though played with gusto by Cliff Bond – is at best distracting and, at worst, completely undercuts the emotional development of the show.
In addition, the play itself is somewhat uneven. After a wonderful build-up of tension, the conclusion falls flat and seems abrupt, leaving the audience with more questions than answers. Some of these are the good kinds of questions, about the nature of sanity and the mind, while others are more prosaic queries about the plot itself.
Despite some rough edges, Hyde Park Theatre’s “The Quarry” is a production with a solid foundation on which some masterpiece performances are able to stand.
“The Quarry” continues through Oct. 24. www.hydeparktheatre.org