January 23rd, 2010 5:33 pm | by BEN WATERHOUSE News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

Fertile Ground Day 1: Memory Water, Truth and Beauty and The Hillsboro Story

The first day of the Fertile Ground Festival of new play has come and gone. Here's what we saw on day one of ten:

Truth and Beauty

It's been a long time since Many Hats Collaboration's last full show—Lava Alapai's Mutt in 2005—and I had very high expectations for the company's latest project. Truth and Beauty is an adaptation (by Elizabeth Klinger, who also directs the show) of novelist Ann Patchett's memoir about her friendship with Lucy Grealy, a poet and memoirist whose face was permanently deformed by a childhood cancer and who eventually died from a drug overdose. The show is performed by Jessica Wallenfels (left) as Grealy and Betsy Cross (right) as Ann Patchett, with Joe Spencer playing all other characters. Cross and Wallenfels are both talented dancers, and incorporate a lot of movement into the piece, which alternates between playful fun and Grealy's distressing fall into a mire of drug addiction. It's a good piece, repetitive at some moments but for the most part thoroughly enjoyable right up until the tear-jerker ending. The choreography is excellent and fitting, and the prosthetics Wallenfels wears to simulate the effects of Grealy's deformity are striking. I hope we'll see this one remounted in the future.

Shaking the Tree Studio, 1407 SE Stark St., 235-0635. 8:30 pm Jan. 22-23 and 28-30. $15.

Memory Water: A Story of Love Loss & Liquid

The other shop premiering at Shaking the Tree Studio during the festival is a one-hour piece by playwright Andrea Stolowitz about the legend of La Llorona, a beautiful woman who drowns her children after being spurned by her lover. La Llorona is a persistent character in Latin American folklore, and there are many versions of her story, but Stolowitz presents only one: an Indian woman falls in love with Hernán Cortez, helps him conquer Mexico, bears his children and kills herself when he is lured back to Spain by a Castilian trollop. There's a good story to be found here, but Stolowitz isn't digging hard enough. The script drags on and on, as an annoyingly personified River (Chisao Hata) drones through interminable vague monologues. Nelda Reyes makes a strong effort at Malinali, La Llorona, and the production benefits from good direction by Samantha Van Der Merwe and nice design work, but in the end there's not much to be done about the script.

Shaking the Tree Studio, 1407 SE Stark St., 205-0715. 7 pm Fridays-Saturdays and Thursday, Jan. 28. Closes Jan. 30. $5.

The Hillsboro Story

Fifty years after watching black mothers protest segregation outside of her classroom window, writer and director Susan Banyas returned to Hillsboro, Ohio to investigate her hometown's unexplored history as the site of the first test case of Brown v. Board of Education. Armed with minimal props and fellow actresses Laverne Green, Paige Jones, and Jennifer Lanier, she reveals the memories unearthed from over fifty interviews with the town's locals. There are few props and the narration is straight-to-the-point, but this is a powerful play. All four female performers' acting is superb, with the enthusiasm and theatrical prowess of Lanier occasionally stealing the show. Gregg Bielemeier's choreography brings visual charm to the narrative, keeping the show's performers in constant motion, galloping comically across the stage one moment and swaying seductively the next (while talking civil rights court case-- it's one of many poignant, yet hilarious, juxtapositions throughout the piece). Also notable is the show's well-orchestrated musical composition by David Ornette Cherry. NATALIE BAKER. Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., 241-1278. 7:30 pm Saturday, 2 pm Sunday. $8-$10.
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