In a backyard on St. Claude Avenue, strings of colored lights unexpectedly went dark and conversation stopped. Minutes later, a few escorts emerged from the darkness. Using flashlights, they led the audience down a winding path crossed by roots and strewn with dried leaves to rows of seats facing a cluster of trees. It was completely dark in the interior of a city block where the Truck Farm is located. Then two headlights flicked on to start Cripple Creek Theatre Company's new show Possum Kingdom.
Written by Andrew Vaught, who also plays the character Inman, Possum Kingdom is a dystopian story about economic power imbalance and its effects on the disadvantaged and their homes. To make a living, the forest dwellers scrape trees for "brosia," and Inman sells it "up river." How the up-river people use brosia is unclear, but the show states that two things live off it: the workers and possums. The possums are aggressive scavengers whose "garbage disposal" stomach acid can break down the brosia, and the creatures are believed to kill people who compete with them for the resource.
In the face of economic desolation and hostile possums, the forest workers show resilience. The entire cast delivers engaging, emotional, vibrant performances. The highly determined Alder (Dylan Hunter) builds himself a ramshackle home. Hunter plays him with raw intensity and conviction. Marjorie (Kate Kuen) scribbles daily logs in her loose-leaf journals, but in a script only she can read. "We keeping giving our lives away," Marjorie cries in a moment that pierces the darkness. Kuen also has a standout moment when she sings a beautiful song about loss. Pattison (Martin Bradford) heaves through chest-coughs and battles his deep frustration with his situation.
While the characters in Possum Kingdom were dynamic, at times the plot went static. In a of couple places, the use of supernatural elements distracted from the grounded narrative about the workers. After she was killed by possums, Inman's wife Ginger (Odile del Giudice) returned to the camp as a spirit. Giudice gave a resonant performance, but Act 2 was too focused on her.
Clever staging and light design turned the Truck Farm into an expansive theater space. The outdoor setting, with chirping crickets and cockroaches crawling on a stump near the action, was well-ssuited to the story. The menacing red-lit eyes of possums in the distance were a great element.
The show touched on the punishing effects of an unsustainable economy can have on its workers, who suffer madness, abuse and subjugation. As things went from bad to worse, each worker lived in fear of the "up river" people and struggled with his or her own lack of control. Economic and environmental issues intertwined in an interesting way, and Possum Kingdom was an ambitious show that hit its mark much more often than not. — TYLER GILLESPIE