Theater Review: ‘The Quarry’ surreal — and charming
By Jim Lowe
Staff Writer | April 28,2014
Lindsay Raymondjack Photography
Ken (Andy Butterfield), his girlfriend Leah (Sarah Venooker), and Jean (Ruth Wallman) in Vermont Stage production of The Quarry.
BURLINGTON — “The Quarry,” which is receiving its world premiere production by Vermont Stage, is a quirky little Vermont romance that is fun, surreal and deeply touching.
Burlington’s resident professional theater company has also announced its 2014-2015 season.
Jean, a middle-aged eccentric living by a Vermont marble quarry, misses her late husband and has decided to “off herself” — but events keep on getting in her way.
Written by Greg Pierce with music by Randal Pierce, brothers and Shelburne natives, “The Quarry” tells the story of Jean, her husband Sammy, their daughter Clara and others, as Jean tries to make sense of her life. An all-Vermont cast brings these characters to life in this real charmer.
Jean is or has become a real curmudgeon who distrusts virtually everyone. Her husband Sammy died a couple of years ago while coring apples for applesauce. Jean is barely speaking to her only daughter Clara, now living in Texas with a rich computer executive, and who has committed the ultimate sin of becoming a Republican.
Feeling very alone without Sammy, her soul mate, Jean sees no reason to go on living. Events, though, interfere with her plan. First, the quarry is closed when “culturally important” stairs are discovered; and a teen girl goes missing during a birthday party in the quarry. Jean feels too close to leave now.
“The Quarry” is first and foremost delightful storytelling, fascinating and quirky enough to keep it from getting overly sentimental. And most importantly, it is unexpected — and finally satisfying.
Randal Pierce’s incidental music, which he plays on piano and electronic keyboard during the performance, added significantly to the atmosphere as well as coloring the action. Most of the music was derivative, quoting or imitating classics by Debussy and Bizet, among others, as well as pop tunes.
At Saturday’s performance, Pierce, who has been involved in theater music in Montreal as well as at St. Michael’s Playhouse and the Burlington Discover Jazz festival, played his nuanced score effectively and expressively.
Greg Pierce, who is enjoying a successful New York career as playwright, has created a largely tight script (with a few excesses that could be pruned) that imaginatively jumps time periods for the multiple vignettes to tell the story. (His play “Slowgirl,” the inaugural play of Lincoln Center’s Claire Tow Theater or LCT3, and subsequently produced by Steppenwolf Theatre and soon to be at the Geffen Playhouse, will be produced next season by Vermont Stage.)
Cristina Alicea, Vermont Stage’s artistic director, directed this production, one of the company’s most imaginative and effective. Veteran Vermont actor Ruth Wallman delivered a fully dimensional performance as the Jean, effectively revealing the difficult character’s superficial prickliness and inner depth, all the while, enjoying he fun side.
Robert Nuner was most sympathetic as the suffering but loving husband Sammy, as well as several other characters. Sara Venooker gave dimension to their exasperated daughter Clara, as well as offering a touchingly credible portrayal of the teen Leah. Andrew Butterfield successfully differentiated a host of characters, including a most entertaining romp as Leah’s irresponsible boyfriend.
The physical production was particularly effective. Jeff Modereger’s quarry-like set had an appropriately surreal character. The mystery was underscored by Jeffrey Salzberg’s imaginative ever-evolving and quite dramatic lighting. Authenticity was added by Martha Goode’s sound design.
Vermont Stage’s “The Quarry” proved surreal and fascinating, as well as entertaining and touching.
Vermont Stage Company’s 2014-2015 season has been announced as: a play, to be determined, Oct. 8-26; the annual “Winter Tales,” Dec. 10-14; Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” Jan. 28-Feb. 25; Greg Pierce’s “Slowgirl,” March 11-29; Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop,” April 22-May 10; and “The Bake-Off,” June 16-21.
Vermont Stage Company presents the world premiere production of “The Quarry,” a play with music by Greg and Randal Pierce, April 23-May 11 at the Flynn Center’s FlynnSpace, 153 Main St. in Burlington. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $37.50, $32 for Wednesdays, Thursdays and matinees (with discounts for students and AARP members); call 802-86-FLYNN (863-5966), or go online to www.flynntix.org. For information, call 802-862-1497, or visit www.vtstage.org.