I went to see The Harvest this weekend at the 5 & Dime Theatre in Downtown Jacksonville. Its the first time I’ve seen an actual performance at the theatre’s permanent home in the past three years.
They’ve always been a great, intellectually satisfying performance group, with lots of satellite shows at locations other than the theatre. I know I used to really enjoy their works in the early years of their existence and this one was absolutely wonderful. Even a level above their early wonderful programs.
The theatre is neat, comfortable, completely modern, with marvelously simple elegant technical infrastructure. LED lighting systems that are silent and non-heat producing, and more variable and controllable than a thousand of the old traditional theatre lights. The sound is balanced, warm and perfectly natural. From a technical experience, its a wonderful space.
The Harvest, directed by Bradley Akers, is set in a pentecostal church basement in Idaho. It follows the stories of a group of people who are preparing to go to work in missions, with the aim of converting Muslims in small villages to Christianity.
Their stories are mundane but gripping. Death, addiction issues, abandonment, woman-suppressive relationships, religion, sexuality, parental issues, independence. Sounds like an original series on Hulu, right? Except that this isn’t.
The writing is brilliant. It leaves the issues that drive the lives of these characters completely unmentioned. At no point are they even named, not even any of the social indicators. Instead they are subtly demonstrated, leaving you breathlessly interested in the characters in real time instead of trying to decide which morality play trope is going to be deployed in the eventual homily. Tropes and homilies which, thankfully, never materialize.
The problem with brilliant writing and theatre, is that it relies on gifted performers to flesh out the lines with corresponding brilliance or else something is usually lost in translation. Rarely is it anything other than the really important parts that get bungled. Happily, this performance is cast perfectly with an ear to a sense of understatement that brings the writing to vivid life.
It’s an hour and a half of performances that will move you like your favorite episode of This is Us.
Standout performances by Kristen Walsh, who plays mousy and nice mega-bitch Ada. She delivers lines that make you laugh and in one case gasp from their utter perfidy. She does it with such understatement and trueness, you just assume that she has had personal experience with passive agressive villainesses.
Actor Mitchell Wohl also gives one of the understated, punches-pulled performances that make you yearn for his character.
Then Bob Pritchard nails down the coffin with a superbly performed Preacher in a brief, but absolutely devastating, appearance.
I was at a showing of The Harvest whose audience included Alicia DeWitt Somers, Denise, Harry and Rita Reagan, and a baker’s dozen of Jacksonville theatre fans. The kind who don’t casually show up for a Sunday performance unless its verifiable amazing.
The Harvest is a show that lives in the unsaid, celebrates characters who cant express themselves, and give you real glimpses of pathos and humanity.
I don’t recommend much very enthusiastically. I do recommend this one though. Bring Visine.
Find more information or buy tickets on their website.