Presented by Fresh Ink
Written by Francisca Da Silveira
Directed by Phaedra Michelle Scott
May 11 – 26, 2018
Deane Hall, The Standford Calderwood Pavilion
Boston Center for the Arts
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Review by Diana Lu
(Boston, MA) Fresh Ink Theatre Presents: Heritage Hill Naturals is nominally an examination of the millennial generation’s anxiety, paralysis, and distractions from their unique existential malaise. These distractions come in the form of Buzzfeed memes, selfie stick subculture, and month-long agro-tourism stints in rural America. Our protagonist, Lucy, seeks self-enlightenment, or at least solace from her anxiety and depression at Heritage Hill Naturals, one such farm in rural Georgia. Here, she finds anything but, amongst a cast of quirky characters, and strange circumstances beyond her scope of experience or her best efforts at benevolence.
I really appreciated the production itself and I thought a lot of elements worked well. There were many comedic moments in the dialogue and the well-timed, quippy banter was great. The characters were well-defined and the acting was very strong, particularly Kellie Moon. I also really liked how the players doubled as sound effects. It was a very creative and polished means to efficiently use of the space and the people, and greatly enhanced the emotional reality of the scenes. The portrayal of Lucy’s (Alex Casillas) panic attack was especially well executed and dramatically effective.
That said, a lot of the marketed themes were mentioned by characters in conversation, but not intrinsic to the plot, and I didn’t get a strong feeling for a central argument of the play. Most of the characters also didn’t have close relationships with one another, so there weren’t many relationship dynamics with high emotional stakes for the audience to invest in, especially with respect to the main character. In fact, the play ends when Lucy decides to cut her stay short because “she doesn’t have to be there.”
Characters also seemed disjointed as such that they came across as unsympathetic. For example, Erica (Laura Baronet Chowenhill) was introduced as ubiquitously carrying a selfie stick and a flippantly racist attitude, but that was dropped immediately. Sasha’s (Emily Elmore) radical feminism and conspiracy theorizing had no consequence to the story and played increasingly insincere with each passing scene because of it. The romance at the end also seemed to come out of nowhere.
Heritage Hill Naturals was supposed to be about the millennial generation’s existential plight, but the most prominent theme I absorbed was the divide between “liberal elites” and the “real” America. To me, Lucy’s shift was realizing that she had the privilege to leave. That, despite how isolated she feels as a woman of color among white liberals, she’s more like them (and has more of that kind of priviledge) than the rural agricultural workers, with no other home and no respite from endless drudgery, suffocating patriarchy, and fanatical religion. However, Lucy deciding to leave because she “doesn’t have to be there” also feels like a deus ex machina, a cop-out in lieu of a real conclusion to her internal hero’s journey. It felt like Lucy relinquished her right to be the protagonist of her own story, which disappointed and frustrated me.
Rose’s (Aislinn Brophy) monologue in the penultimate scene was the most incisive commentary, and for me the most impressive take-away from the entire production. By then Rose seemed like the dark horse protagonist, keeping the world turning on the farm no matter what trivial interpersonal dramas are conspiring. Rose, the black woman “born in the help house” turned de facto materfamilias, doing all the real work of running the show and getting no thanks, titles, or money for her labor. Because isn’t that exactly how real America really runs?
There are some powerful creative seeds in this play, and certainly, the subject matter is of immense relevance in today’s political climate. However, I think the writing itself needs more workshopping and maybe distance from actual events, for it to grow into the story it wants to become.