Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: "Fallow"

Kenneth Lin's "Fallow" at People's Light founders in a swamp of metaphor, says critic Wendy Rosenfield.

Review: "Fallow"


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

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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