The Northwestern Theatre Department’s upcoming play Ballad Hunter, written by Jenny Laird and directed by Karen Barker, is a fantastic, relational play and is touching, catching and keeping the audience’s attention with its fantastic cast.
The first glimpse of the stage evokes a sort of backwoods culture with one half- built, dilapidated house on either side of the stage. In between the two houses is a patch of real dirt. The use of real dirt contributes to “selective realism and texture,” as lighting designer Marit Langley put it.
The acting is superb. The cast is a mix of seasoned actors and less-seen talent. From Susan Schoenrock’s wonderful navigation of the emotional range of the mother, Gussie, to Greta Floding’s spunky and loveable acting in the role of Lotta, the daughter, and Kylie Steinbach’s Hetty, the gossipy, somewhat judgmental, but in the end caringly protective grandmother, the cast is top notch. Dan Laird handles his own well with the three women, playing the idealist and somewhat naïve, yet good-intentioned, Cecil (or REA, as Lotta calls him). Brady Greer Huffman, playing the role of Buzzy, the mute and mysterious neighbor, does a fantastic job on this very difficult role. Without a word, he plays the thoughts and emotions of Buzzy with great intensity. The actors bring out the all the quirks and nuances to humanize the Appalachian family.
The script presents a wonderful story of family and relationships. The dynamic in the family is raw and honest. Cecil comes along, trying to convince the ladies and their neighbors that they want the electricity that the government wants to put in on the mountain. Hetty doesn’t want what Cecil’s selling, Lotta is a bit more interested in Cecil himself, and Gussie’s maternal instincts leads to discomfort with Cecil’s proximity to her daughter. The script progresses while Cecil tries to convince the ladies that he means no harm, all the while trying to figure out who Buzzy is—and who and where is this mysterious “Ballad Hunter”?
Come out and see what Hedy Weiss of the Chicago Sun-Times calls, “A deeply lyrical, emotionally varied and continually surprising new work… [with] both a sense of authenticity and the irresistible allure of a fairy tale and rare love story.” Ballad Hunter is showing Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.