What-A-Do Theatre in Springfield is performing the play “Back County Crimes” through October 15th.
“Back County Crimes,” What-A-Do Theatre’s offering under the October moon, serves up a variety of dirty deeds and features a graveyard scene. Despite the seasonal trappings, however, this show is neither a pre-Halloween thrill nor the kind of in-depth experience you expect at the theatre.
Instead this play is a country doctor’s not altogether pleasant recollections of 40 years’ practice in Duty, a small rural Southern town. While many of the characters described by Doc Autrey will catch your attention, few represent the kind of folks you’d want to get to know better - and that’s a problem.
Director Randy Wolfe does tell the story effectively through narration, dialogue, sound, music, movement and some creative stylized violence. He also has a capable cast committed to bringing the town residents to life onstage. Audience members, however, may experience difficulty connecting with the over-the-top nature of the script.
By the end of the evening, you might wish that playwright, Lanie Robertson, had made Duty’s citizens more three-dimensional and less sensational. Instead the author serves up a steady diet of bizarre, inexplicably cruel and horrific acts seemingly ripped from a police blotter. That includes infanticides, murders, and blindings.
More disturbing is Robertson’s thesis that a sinister force or resident evil is responsible for the crimes that plague the community. Other than the elements like wind and monotone sound effects throughout the evening, this allegation is undeveloped. The play is the stuff of a low-grade horror film out to shock its audience, rather than provide insight into human values and choices.
Several scenes included screaming, idiotic laughter, and wild lamentations - which made some viewers recoil in their seats. The show pulls its audience in, however, when human elements take stage. An example was the believable interplay between mother, (Christine Furto Andrews) and son (Darius Walker) as they quietly shared a book before a drunken father’s interruption.
Another scene that succeeded in What-A-Do’s intimate space was Hunter King’s convincing and relatively low-key portrayal of Chrissy Boy, who drowns his demons in a stolen elixir. The disturbing taunts of the bullies who dog his heels set the tone for this character’s clever revenge.
Jeff Stierle, as Doc Autry, offered perhaps the only tribute to tenderness and grace in the evening with a moving monologue in Act II. Stierle recalls the face of his mother and last look of his now deceased wife. This is the kind of moment the audience needs.
Finally, it is true that Southern rural communities experience some of the crimes and depraved characters in Robertson’s play. A broader, less stereotypical view of small town life, however, might more completely represent the accumulated memories of its physician. It might also better engage What-A-Do’s audiences.