Permit me…if I may, to tell you a tale of witchcraft and mayhem. Where the devil lies in wait and ordinary farm objects spring to life to capture the affections of young lady’s hearts. A good old fashioned witch hunt would surely not be amiss at this time of year as Ruxton Players presents The Scarecrow as their fall offering to the stage. Directed by Bill Kamberger, this tragedy of the ludicrous, also known as The Glass Truth, brings together some of the finer elements colonial New England to life. In a time when fear ran rampant and God was vengeful, who knows what could happen with a local witch in residence.
Set Design Team Brad Barnhart and Debbie Bennett craft a relatively authentic look with simplistic touches that aides in transporting the audience back to 1693. The hay bales and rustic blacksmith tools mounted on the board are the perfect look for Goody Rickby’s Blacksmith Shop. Barnhart and Bennett do an even finer job of constructing the interior for Justice Merton’s home, heavy dark wooded furniture making it an appropriately foreboding and God-fearing atmosphere.
Keeping along with the well presented colonial theme is Costume Designer HelenMary Ball. With vibrant colors reserved for the pumpkin king re-animated, Ball does an exquisite job of keeping the characters of Justic Merton’s household in more subdued and macabre tones. The exception naturally being the stunningly beautiful Rachel, who is outfitted in layers of delicate lace and ruffles in the gentlest of pastels, though on the darker range of that color spectrum. Ball gives Lord Ravensbane a refreshing, albeit haughty, air with the shimmering gold coat and absurd wig and hat; a look any conjuring devil would be proud of.
The major holdup in this production is the lengthy scene changes. While the finished scenes once presented do look rather impressive with all of their furnishings, it takes a very long time to get there. The changes are often audibly clunky and could use some smoothing to help with the overall flow of the performance. This can also be said of the big transformation from inanimate to live person when it comes to bringing the scarecrow to life. While it only takes a moment, the overall effect is lost and could stand to be approached from another angle.
These things being said, Director Bill Kamberger does an exceptional job of trying to keep the show moving forward. The action in the scenes stays on task, for the most part, and the story builds with intrigue and hints of suspense as the story unfolds. Dickon (Tom Blair) and Goody Rickby (Lea Billingslea) tend to have a lot of the dialogue-heavy scenes, where the story slows down, and could use a little nudging from time to time, but overall do a decent job with the verbose script.
There is real talent shining in this little band of community players, Mistress Rachel (Chelsea Blackwell) and Squire Talbot (Mike Ware) being two prime examples. Ware exhibits the proper decorum expected of a gentleman throughout the entire production, from his stature to the very manner in which he speaks. His unyielding love for Rachel, though subtle and reserved, forces his character to persevere even in the face of the devil. Blackwell and Ware have an even subtler chemistry between them, though at first it is clear she is taken with him. When things change their vehement anger toward one another is no secret and they play extremely well against each other when barbing and breaking apart.
Blackwell is the epitome of a doe-eyed thing, eager but naïve, and desperate for true love. Willing to believe in anything, be it love or witchcraft, Blackwell’s character carries all of the jittery emotions of a young girl caught in the crosshairs of these things. Her interactions with Lord Ravensbane are politely peppered with nervous laughter, lovestruck looks, and the appropriate blush.
Justice Merton (J. R. Lyston) is a solid stone upon which you could cut the portrait of a foundation against. Lyston fully embodies this character using a specific physicality and voice as vessels for this crotchety old man. There is a pronounced British sound that authenticates the colonial era when he speaks, his gait slightly wobbly as if it tires him to totter about, and when he begins blustering about you can hear the fire and brimstone belching up through every bellow. His temper is barely restrained and when he begins to confront Dickon and Lord Ravensbane he explodes the emotional ceiling that hovers over them all.
As for Lord Ravensbane (John Robert Wright) he is a truly multifaceted and deeply dynamic character. Wright creates such depth in the simplistic fool that it is astonishing. Keeping to the ridiculous notions and giddy childlike innocence at first, it becomes that much more shocking for his heart-wrenching fully formulated speech at the end. There is a flamboyance about his character that is laughable, but it grounds the character in the insane reality of the show; his speech patterns and ability to linger on exactly the right word really adding a zest to his portrayal. With a tremendous stage presence, even as the limping stumbling grotesque reanimation, Wright is the wringer for this role and carries a good deal of the show’s action on his shoulders; an impressive performance beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Running Time: Approximately three hours, with one intermission.
The Scarecrow plays through October 19, 2013 at Ruxton Players performing at Church of the Good Shepherd—1401 Carrollton Avenue in Towson, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 823-0122, or purchase them at the door.