Encore Michigan

What A Do ready to haunt your October

Review October 01, 2017 Bridgette Redman

SPRINGFIELD, Mich.–It’s nigh on October and the witches are starting to fly, the ghosts are beginning to haunt and storytellers are bringing out their most bone-chilling tales.

What a Do Theater is ready for fall’s most spooky holiday with their production of Back County Crimes. You can get your first inkling of what the show will be like before you even enter the building and are greeted with a campfire and a crate worth looking closely at.

The show is a collection of monologues, paired monologues and some dialog, all talking about the crimes committed in the Deep South town of Duty, in the county of Love in an unnamed state. For 40 years, Doc Autry (Jeff Stierle) has served this town of just over 400 people and borne witness to the evil things that they have done.

Or are they evil? Many of the scenes start out with the guilty party promising, “I never meant to do no evil thing.” But despite their intentions, evil happens, often in the form of murder, sometimes in the shape of other crimes that frequently leave behind a trail of broken people.

Some shows reveal the hand of the director more than others, and this production definitely presents the vision of director Randy Wolfe. He creates a mood that carries through from scene to scene. He encourages bold choices from all of the ensemble so that the audience embraces the themes of loss, insanity, revenge and anger.

There is an intensity about this show that draws the audience in, demanding and keeping their attention as the story moves from scene to scene, actors moving in and out of different roles. Wolfe also makes sure that the design crew works seamlessly with the actors whether it is Nancy King’s rural costuming, Samantha Snow’s dark lighting tinged with lots of reds, or Snow and Thomas Koehler’s stark set consisting of blocks and movable furnishings.

Wade King creates a soundtrack that constantly underlies the action, making frequent use of original music by John Purchase. While the soundtrack excels at setting the mood and increasing the intensity of the story, it sometimes overpowers the actors and makes it dificult to hear them. This is especially true when actors are using affected voices or are trying to make it sound as if they are being quiet while still projecting.

There are 14 scenes in this two hour and 15 minute play. The ensemble switches quickly between roles and frequently act as a chorus that sometimes mumbles, sometimes screeches and other times make up shadows behind a scrim.

Stierle narrates these tales of woe and infuses each one with poetry and deep reflections on what causes people to do the things they do. He has a commanding presence and a heavy Southern accent, one he is able to handle better than some of the others in the cast.

One of the things that makes this show so successful is the willingness of the actors to step outside of the normal and to go big. The characters are often larger than life. Wolfe doesn’t necessarily want us to immediately identify with these characters. Instead he presents them as strange, often bordering on insane, motivated by strong, singular emotions.

It takes a large cast to tell these stories and everyone doubles up to play different people. Most handled the doubling well, giving each of their characters different personalities and motivations. A few times it seemed as though a character were reappearing because the parts were played in too similar a manner.

Surprisingly in a cast this large, there weren’t really actors who stood out over the others. Instead, everyone brought each other up, giving their fellow actors lots to work with. There was an incredible amount of energy and intensity brought to all the roles. The casting was superb.

Back County Crimes, by Lanie Robertson, is a great way to launch your Halloween season. Amid all the horror, there are moments of laughter, hope and inspiration. There is music, tears and haunting stories. And it is done with a cast and crew that works seamlessly to provide a night of spooky storytelling.

Click here for show days, times and ticket details.