The trouble with Kenneth Lin's Fallow, receiving its world premiere at People's Light & Theatre Company, begins at the beginning. Elizabeth Hayes (Mary Elizabeth Scallen), on a quest to visit her son Aaron's murderers in prison, first travels to California farm country, where Aaron was a migrant worker after dropping out of Cornell University. Upon her arrival in the Golden State -- helpfully, she's wearing a T-shirt that reads "California" -- Elizabeth immediately encounters Happy (Robert Montano), a Mexican gypsy-cab driver, who may know more about Aaron than he admits.
Lin never clarifies whether Elizabeth's meeting with Happy occurs by chance or design, though his play seems to claim both. But that's only the first problem in a drama so overstuffed that its plot devices have to jostle for attention with its bloated metaphoric flourishes. Think I'm exaggerating? Here's Elizabeth's description of a strawberry's flavor, which she claims tastes like leather: "Imagine you are riding through an orchard, and your horse's hooves are smashing rotten apples and you come to a stream and you stop and smell your hands. Isn't that it?" Well, no, not in real life or in its scripted naturalistic approximation, anyway.
That's before the apiary references begin. Because bees, you know, they can represent the worker/boss dynamic, or wanderlust, or family structure, or all that and more. You see, Aaron (George Olesky) took up beekeeping. He also had a nasty breakup, though we join him on a visit to his old fraternity where he spends the evening with a truly odd girl who won a drinking contest that earned her a Viking hat and the title "the Wildebeest." Why? To advance some metaphor about carnivores, I think. Plus, Mom's marriage is unhappy, and there was something about a lover named Luis, and a horse, and Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky." And Aaron's father recently took up photography. Oh, and Happy might be an illegal immigrant.
Director Jackson Gay, who never finds a consistent tone, lucked out with Montano, perhaps the sole reason this production deserves a viewing. He's reserved, reveals just enough at the right moments, and while Lin's visionary proclamations suffocate his many competing issues, Montano's humility and clarity offer a welcome respite.
That's another bit of trouble. The issues Lin raises are worth examining. His central story, sort of Into the Wild spliced with Driving Miss Daisy, can carry itself without all the clutter. Lose half the ancillary characters and all that pontificating, and he might just gain himself a show with meaning to accompany its metaphors.
Through Feb. 5 at People's Light & Theatre, 39 Conestoga Rd., Malvern. Tickets: $25-$45. Information: 610-644-3500 or www.peopleslight.org.