Playwright: Jim Leonard, Jr.
At: Speaking Ring Theatre at the
Old Speakeasy, 4137 N. Broadway
Phone: 312-458-9374; $20
Runs through: April 5
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
The character at the center of our Depression-era yarn is a near-feral boy named Buddy, the source of whose affliction was the flood that killed his mother and nearly claimed his life as well. His traumatic experience, we are told, has instilled in him a sensitivity to water that sends him into paroxysms of terror at the touch of a slightest drop, but has also endowed him with the gift of finding wellsprings below the parched Indiana farmland—a talent endearing him to the farm community relying on the precious fluid to nourish their crops.
You won't find Buddy's ailment listed under a tidy scientific title in the AMA journals, however. His eccentric behavior is a purely literary device, crafted by author Jim Leonard, Jr., as a corporeal manifestation of the spiritual turmoil that drives a drifter named C.C. Showers from his calling as a Kentucky preacher to roam the impoverished countryside in search of his lost light. The quaint camaraderie that springs up between these troubled souls promises resurrection for both—but neither reckons on the interference of a congregation likewise eager for salvation.
There's nothing that says that a coherent persona, rooted in plausibility, can't be forged from this particular combination of ecclesiastical metaphors. But the opportunities for physical creativity presented by 'playing crazy' often prove too much for energetic young actors to resist, among them Speaking Ring Theatre's Dave Urlakis, who endows the 'teched' Buddy, not only with the phobic responses cited in the script, but also bulging eyes, hedgehog hair, falsetto stammer, twisted hands, spastic limbs, and a veritable catalogue of tremors and tics.
If the other cast members assembled by director Emily Korff were not so adept at projecting earthy American wisdom, tolerance and compassion, we would be hard put to take seriously Leonard's efforts to impose an aura of Holy Innocence upon a creature rendered more puppyish than human. But as we warm to the rural ambience invoked by Steve Baldwin and Joe Griffin's infectious ( if ambiguously selected ) musical score, and to the archetypes endemic to this genre—in particular, Joe Adamczak's clergyman-in-crisis, flanked by Josh Sumner and Laurence Bryan's salt-of-the-earth patriarchs—we come to accept their concern for this waif sufficiently to justify our concern, but never to the extent required to invoke genuine emotional involvement.