Review (#1 of 2): POSTVILLE by Don Fried, Last Act Theater Company
by David Glen Robinson
The latest production of Last Act Theatre Company involves life in a small town in Iowa, based on actual events in the 1990s. Named for the town, the play Postville captures many of the events, some characters, and almost all of the feelings of the time when Hasidic Jews arrived in Postville to purchase and reopen a meatpacking plant for marketing of kosher meats. The closed plant had been the only realistic source of employment for the town, and its reopening was hailed as a return to economic viability. That’s what the townspeople wanted; what they got was the culture clash of all time.
Don Fried’s play very efficiently and cleverly captures what is most important about the shared adventure of the Hasidim and small-town Iowans. Their dialogs and actions address issues of social life of high relevance to the 1990s and today. Fried’s transit of the themes of the struggle of women’s rights, domestic conflict, legal and illegal immigration, labor exploitation, provinciality and diversity, and civic responsibility is smooth, light on the tongues of the actors, and pleasing to the ears of the audience.
The success of the stage story depended, of course, on a generally excellent cast. As doesn’t always happen, but happily in this case, the lead roles were cast with exceptionally strong actors. Grace, the mayor of the town, was played by Kathy Rose Center. Laurie Coker portrayed Rhonda, the owner and editor of the town newspaper. Avram, the Hasidic entrepreneur, was played by Robert Stevens; and Beau Paul was Moishe, his rabbi. An additional standout was Eva McQuade, an emerging talent in the local theatre community, who played Arcadia and additional characters. The cast as a whole was efficient, notably in scene changes of the modular and linear storefront set construction. This is also a credit to the thoroughgoing direction of David Kassin Fried. Some supporting actors performed at lower energy levels largely due to imprecise elocution and lower volume, but the stronger actors brought everything back up to higher and clearer energy levels.
The design fields worked well together to create Postville, Iowa on Trinity Street’s wider-than-deep stage. The movable storefront set broke apart in various ways to open on interior scenes. Well done video projections on the upstage screen set the Postville townscape and interiors firmly in the action. The video design meshed with the live action to tell the story along with the actors, something video-forward productions often overlook. The program lacks a direct credit for video, video design, or media design, but Courtney DeGinder was variously credited for Technical Direction and Lighting Design, so she probably deserves the plaudits.
Costumes designed by Jacki Moffa seemed appropriate and period-correct for both the Hasidim and the Iowans. A small point that looms large is that in winter scenes the entire cast wore garb appropriate to winter Iowa, taking off gear upon entering and putting it back on upon exiting. This is a credit to designer Moffa and director Fried. The point looms large because the need for winter gear seemed almost completely ignored in recent productions by others, with serious harm to a sense of reality in their stories. Not so here.
In his playwright’s notes, Don Fried states clearly that Postville is about change. The play offers insights on many levels, from the cultural to the economic, municipal, and marital. The individual stands inevitably at the intersection of all of these levels, even in backwater rural Iowa. Deeper than this recognition, however, is the need for resilience and adaptation to change. Postville points out sources of refuge and support for the exciting adventure. The sources lie often across religions, across cultures, across voting lines, across the tracks, and sometimes just in the rocking chairs along Main Street.
Postville runs from July 29 to August 14, 2016 at Trinity Street Theatre, 901 Trinity Street, downtown Austin. The show is recommended for ages 12 and up.
July 29 - August 14, 2016
Black Box Theatre, 4th floor, First Baptist Church
901 Trinity Street
Austin, TX, 78701
Thursdays - Sundays; more to be announced by Last Act Theatre Company (March 24, 2016)