Elite Theatre Company
2731 S. Victoria Ave
Thru August 21, 2016
In his now infamous book ‘Into the Wild’ Jon Krakauer chronicled the physical and spiritual journey of a young man vanishing into the American west, hoping to discover something he felt had been lost in the fray of his torn family fabric. Feeling the loss of a once distinct moral compass, Krakauer’s young hero strays through state after state, looking for redemption, and ultimately, belonging.
In the Elite Theatre’s latest offering, local theatrical jack-of-all-trades Tom Eubanks presents his new play ‘In the Midst of All That is Good.’ Out here in the wild Eubanks delivers the Haggard family; and like the characters of a Krakauer book, they too have retreated to a remote campsite in the American west to reestablish lines of communication after a scandal that cost them their family’s moral compass.
From the moment audiences open a program they’re made familiar with Eubanks’ proximity to the material; a son of a preacher himself, Eubanks drew from his personal experience in drawing the Haggard family as they scrounge for scraps of truth in a barren, unforgiving land.
Bob Haggard (Jeff Ham) has spent a lifetime obeying the word of the Lord as his father has passed it down. Now in crisis, Bob wants to believe that the power of prayer still holds the ability to restore what weaker human impulses have ruined. As the story unfolds, we see the Haggards running from a tarnished reputation, and even in a remote desert campsite, that reputation is a hard thing to shake.
Bob’s first appearance onstage brings this home. He staggers in with a bloody foot, not having seen a board with an upturned nail lying right in his path. But Bob, in true Clark Griswold fashion, won’t let it stop the Haggards from getting what they came for: an open, moral path made possible again by communication.
No one is trying harder to communicate than Bob’s deaf son Carson (Alex Czajka), who is able to communicate through a blend of slurred shouts and sharp sign language. His biggest fan and sister Maddie (Hannah Eubanks), uses her sign abilities to maintain an inside track with Carson. But Maddie has another agenda. Seeing how adults stop talking when she comes in a room, Maddie pleads: “why are you acting like you don’t want to say something that’s going to hurt me?”
Maddie insists she no longer needs sheltering from the bad news that’s barely trickled into her world thru the media, and is ready to forge a new path to the truth that she knows is just lying there, waiting to come out. Here, Hannah Eubanks does a fine job of embodying the angst and frustration of a young mind watching her family splinter before her eyes, knowing she just wants to know what’s going on, despite Bob’s best intentions to protect her.
‘In the Midst of All That is Good’ is, at times, Maddie’s show. A detailed and lovely monologue in which the younger Haggard admits that she can’t act like everything’s fine when she doesn’t know what’s going on allows her to capture the anxieties of a young woman trapped by hypocrisy. Maddie Haggard’s thirst for the truth, one she believes can show her a guiding light, is likened to being blind, to not knowing what’s in the room. Even when Maddie sits silent, soaking in the details of her grandfathers story, Maddie’s wordless stare is one of a young woman finally receiving the truth for which she’s longed.
All of the action of ‘In the Midst of All That is Good’ takes place in a single campsite. Future producers of the show will see the simplicity of whipping together a few tents and essential camping regalia and voila! Instant set. For the Elite production Eubanks employed Bob Decker and Holly Sherman to get a little more creative. The team developed a series of rock outcroppings to lend passageways from which his cast to duck in and out.
And you just know that the Haggard’s past is going to come slithering out from one of those rock walls. The first visitor is Dennis (Johnny Avila), who claims to be harvesting snake venom. Turns out that he and his cohort Vic (Josh Carmichael) are harvesting something else that grows out in this climate, and they’re none too happy about interlopers. Vic is especially upset when he discovers that the elder Haggard, fallen televangelist Lloyd (David Fruechting) was the recipient of a whole lot of his family’s money.
“Some things are hard to see, even in plain sight,” says Dennis ironically of the board that punctured Bob’s foot. Lloyd’s proclamation that Dennis is “the iceberg” (that sunk the Titanic) and “static electricity” (that downed the Hindenberg)” turns out to be accurate. It was after all, Dennis that left the board with the nail in it laying in Bob’s path.
But, as anyone who’s Clark Griswold-esque father has dragged his family into the wild will know, Bob will just say it’s a mere misstep in the longer search of that elusive, brand new start he’s sure is just around the next corner.
IN THE MIDST OF ALL THAT IS GOOD
Elite Theatre Company
2731 S. Victoria Ave
Playing thru August 21, 2016
Friday & Sat, 8pm – Sunday 2pm Matinee
Ticket info: Tickets: (805) 483-5118 or go to www.elitetheatre.org