Border Songs, is being staged by Book-It Repertory Theatre, a narrative theatre, which turns prose works into theatre using both the dialogue and the descriptive narrative. The best description of this play was on the press packet, a Canadian flag, but instead of a red Maple Leaf in the middle, there was a red marijuana leaf, symbolizing the lucrative marijuana trade, and other illegal substances, such as immigrants, between British Columbia and Washington State. The flag was displayed in the second act and was one of the creative touches which made this slow-moving show watchable.
Like a long 19th century novel, it tells the tale of the connections between three households living within spitting distance of the 49th parallel, the artificial border between Canada and the U.S. In one household lives the man/boy, Brandon a 6′ 8″ giant, dyslexic (played by Patrick Allcorn), who has a sixth sense about birds and nature, is artistic, and more than awkward socially. Due to his hobby of bird-watching, often at night out-doors, he has become the most successful Border Patrol (BP for short) office in his office, in a very short time. His father (played by Jim Gall), a struggling dairy farmer, with a wife suffering from Alzheimer’s, takes bribes from coyotes to look the other way, while illegal immigrants cross the border onto his farm. Across the border is an eccentric retired ailing professor (played by Andrew Derycke) and his petite ne’er do well daughter Madeline, who is a “mule” and house sitter, for a major marijuana operation. Brandon tries to woo Madeline, (played by Helen Harvester) and in turn is being wooed by a fellow B.P. officer, a tough-talking “broad” single mother. Sound confusing?
Indeed it was. As a novel, I’m sure it worked fine, but the staged version contained so many characters, such a complicated meandering plot without a strong protagonist to propel the action, that it was very slow-moving and it took to very end of the first act to set up the conflict and a goal for our beloved giant-hero to resolve. The first act barely engaged the audience’s attention. Indeed the people next to me did not return for the second act.
Fortunately, the production was extremely well-done. All of the actors delivered strong performances; the staging was particularly creative, using flashlights to depict the headlights of cars for car chases, the aforementioned Canadian flag and other simple imaginative devices. The set, designed by Carol Wolfe Clay, was interesting and worked superbly well to stage outdoor scenes, indoor scenes, dairy barns, car chases, press rooms and the BP office. For such a difficult novel to stage, one must commend the director, David Quicksall. The novel demanded very complicated special effects and the Composer/Sound engineer and lighting designer delivered the goods, which included several authentic sounding bird songs.
Book-It’s mission is a difficult one, not every novel is as easily staged as Jane Austen; presenting great literature and a local author is admirable.
BORDER SONGS by Jim Lynch. Adapted by Bryan Wills with director David Quicksall. September 12-Oc. 9 , Center House Theatre, Seattle Center, 305 Harrison ( intersection of 5th Ave and Harrison)