MOUNTAIN OCTOPUS – Written by Beth Kander; Directed by Betty Hart. Produced by Creede Repertory Theatre (Ruth Brown Theatre, 120 South Main, Creede) through August 26. Tickets available at 719-658-2540 or creederep.org.
Beth Kander seems to have channeled Thornton Wilder in her new play currently being performed at Creede. MOUNTAIN OCTOPUS chronicles a few days in Chance – a town very similar to Creede itself and to the mythical Grover’s Corners of Wilder’s OUR TOWN. A town where people live a quiet life, enjoying each other’s company, looking forward to tomorrow with few expectations. A town that accepts the inevitable pains of life as well as the hoped-for joy. A town that takes everyone’s problems seriously, but with a grain of salt.
There has been a death in the larger family of Chance. Happening as it did in the middle of the pandemic, the mourning has been stifled and extended because of the lack of closure. A restaurant/bar owned by Helen, the wife of the deceased, is still shuttered. Making that step of turning the sign on the door from Closed to Open is proving difficult. Her uncle and aunt, Kurt and Martha, are embroiled in their own way past midlife crisis. Ava, the deceased’s daughter, has put the brakes on her life and a planned enrollment in an art school. Michael, a stranger newly laid off from a job and wandering, arrives in town for a hiking expedition and a direction. Lou from a nearby town has information they all need while Charlie, a consistent summer tourist, thinks this death will change everything and he can’t come back to Chance because of it. A maelstrom of confusion and uncertainty cloaked in off-handed humor and the familiarity of an extended family. As an audience member, you care for these individuals immediately because you see how they care for each other.
Getting this group of troubled individuals through their personal traumas – large and small – creates the basis for the plot for this sweet negotiation with life. Each will slowly find a way . . . together. But before we must leave Chance, we blow up balloons, learn how to play cornhole, trace a painting, watch the blossoming of a new relationship and the salvation of an old one, maybe see a mountain lion, put up a tent, absorb new information about the death and watch this group slowly emerge from the cocoon of grief.
It is easy to anticipate sterling performances from the summer company at Creede. Most of them have long-standing relationships with each other that breeds familiarity on stage. Trust and authentic friendships are created through summers of working side by side which easily translates to magic on stage. Kate Berry, who plays Helen, has been a member of the company for thirteen seasons and lives year-round in Creede. Stuart Rider who plays Kurt is in his fourth season. All the other actors (Michael Tyler Horn, Teonna Wesley, Savanna Padilla, and Cameron Davis) are all returnees as well. But Christy Brandt who plays the cantankerous Martha wins the prize as she returns for her 49th season at Creede.
With its simple setting (designed by Lindsay Fuori), the action moves easily from bar to backyard to hiking trail seamlessly with no interruption to the story. The lighting design by Kevin Frazier draws your eye to the appropriate corner of the stage. The lighting is supported by an appropriate and authentic sound design by Kevin Frazier that tells us immediately if we are indoors or outside.
This is a brand-new play that was commissioned by Creede to Ms. Kander, a friend of the company and a prolific playwright. She catches the essence of small-town life and gives each player an appropriate answer to their “what do I do now” questions. Thornton Wilder would approve of this script and so will you.
A WOW factor of 9.5!!