PRAIRIE NOCTURNE

This show could have been titled: “Prairie Nocturne; or ‘Little House on the Prairie’: The Epic Readers Theatre Musical”.  And it should come with a warning that it is 3 HOURS LONG! Not that it is a bad show. It’s not!!! But it’s also not a story that needs a full 3 hours to be told either.

The biggest problem lies in the epic length of the first act, which is an hour and a half long, and during which nothing really happens until the very end. Once intermission finally rolled around, I was tempted to leave, but I didn’t, and am glad I stayed.

The second act was much more interesting, but suffered from the exact opposite problem than that of the first act; specifically, where there had been a dearth of action in act one, there was an over abundance of it in act two. There was just too much exposition followed by too much choppily treated action.

And although I haven’t read the original 2003 novel by Ivan Doig on which this theatrical adaptation by Elena Hartwell is based, I get the feeling that this structural problem most likely originates in Doig’s initial work. In any case, some major restructuring and significant cutting of material would have helped to balance out this lopsided equation. And to be frank, this show needs to be cut by about 45 minutes.

According to Book-It’s press release, the play “takes us back and forth through time in the story of three extraordinary characters on the Montana plains: singer turned-voice teacher Susan Duff, baronial rancher and war hero Wesley Williamson, and Monty Rathbun, a black former rodeo clown now chauffeur. Their lives intersect through their shared geography, their mutual passion for music, and the shouldering of a common task: giving Monty the chance to sing.”  It is ultimately a love story that unfolds on the Great Plains in late 19th and early 20th century America, a story that is shrouded in history and filled with music.

Luckily, this 3-hour tale is told by a group of seasoned and mature actors and actresses. Myra Platt gives a natural and engaging portrayal of Susan Duff, the play’s feisty and determined leading lady of Scottish ancestry. And Geoffery Simmons is intense and emotional in his portrayal of Monty, the African-American leading male.

As for other aspects of the show, the music consists primarily of traditional songs, spirituals, and hymns, with some original pieces written by Doig himself. The set design is minimal, with a backdrop of blue skies and rolling hills, and it is more functional than it is spectacular.

“Prairie Nocturne” is presented by Book-It Repertory Theatre and is now playing at the Center House Theatre from February 7th – March 4th. 305 Harrison Street. Box Office: 206-216-0833. www.book-it.org

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