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THEATER REVIEW My Name Is Annie King
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2017-05-09

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Playwright: Music and lyrics by Aaron Albert and Katy Rea, book by Krista Pioppi. At: Underscore Theatre Company at Pride Arts Broadway, 4139 N. Broadway. Tickets: $20-$30. Runs through: May 28

According to their playbill bios, the authors met at a BFA program in New York City, eventually collaborating on this musical about religious cults in Appalachia—not the region as we know it today after significant coverage in the recent elections, but the romantic Eden celebrated in folk ballads, before government programs introduced electricity, plumbing and highways to the once-isolated region, quickly followed by private enterprises bringing factories, automobiles, televisions and cell phones.

Our story, set in this mystical fantasy realm, begins with unemployed young doctor Lucas fleeing home to banish the low self-esteem engendered by bitter memories of his now-deceased father. Driving down a lonely back-country road, his car strikes backwoodsman Cash, the latter accompanied by his daughter Rosalie. Lucas follows them to the remote forest commune where Cash lives with his wife and four concubines, a quasi-marital arrangement arising from a shared quest for "control over their lives"—accomplished, in this case, with the aid of family prayers incorporating ecstatic dance, a smoking fire-pit and frequent doses of a hallucinogenic home brew called "white drink." Lucas soon becomes entranced by this unconventional lifestyle, especially as embodied in the virginal Rosalie.

Non-conforming societies seeking to avoid interference from social services are well-advised to secure the necessary privacy by settling in territories unattractive to outsiders. Knowing this, audience members may wonder how such a large household dwelling in Arcadian splendor sustains itself—particularly since their survival gear includes fresh-pressed ceremonial robes and a shiny guitar for Lucas to strum enthusasically for one of two country-style songs in a score purporting to invoke "bluegrass" orchestrations, but devoid of banjo, mandolin, dulcimer or jug-bass.

There's no denying the craft reflected in Albert and Rea's delicate cello-infused melodies, nor the carefully cultivated virtuosity of a cast taxed with navigating the complex cadenzas and irregular intervals demanded by the recitative-heavy lyrics. Although the delivery emerged curiously hesitant on opening night—the "Initiation" scene that closes the first act never achieves the revivalist fervor required to engage our emotions—a few more rewrites should smooth the rough spots of this work-in-progress.


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