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by Jennifer Morison Hendrix
Pacific Theatre
1440 W. 12th Av.
January 26-February 25

Pacific Theatre, whose mandate is to present “stories that explore the spiritual aspects of human experience,” has become one of the most consistently interesting companies in the city.  But in their quest to find material that fits their mandate, they sometimes have to stretch themselves theatrically thin.  This is the case with Jennifer Morison Hendrix’s The Hungry Season, a mediocre play about the high price one family pays for its commitment to spirituality.

The situation has dramatic potential. After years away in West Africa, missionaries Marie and George Weller return to their small-town home in Pennsylvania where they’ve left their adolescent daughters Laura (Erin Bourke) and Tina (Lori Kokotailo) to be raised by family friend Martha (Chy).  The awkward parent-child relationship is further aggravated by questions about whether the parents will return to Africa and, if so, whether they’ll take the kids.

The action cuts back and forth to the missionaries’ experience in Africa, focused on their relationship to a local native boy, Chinga (Stuart Pierre), who calls Marie “mother.” 

Marie seems to be the driving force.  She’s the one who has taken Chinga in and whose restlessness makes it hard for her to stay home with her own children.  But as played by Katherine Venour, she’s such a cold fish that she makes Stephen Harper look like Oprah.  Even after years away from her daughters, she seems barely able to touch them.  She never even shakes hands with the woman who raised them for her. 

Physical affection throughout this play is at a premium.  No one ever kisses anyone else, despite all the deep sentiment and high emotion.

Ron Reed’s George is more relaxed and likeable but rather ineffectual.  He too dithers about whether to stay or go, a situation further drained of drama by the device of numerous letters to connect the Wellers with the bureaucrats at Missionary Central.

The daughters don’t fare much better.  Older sister Laura is a violin virtuoso whose personal dilemma—will she get a scholarship to the conservatory?—ultimately has little to do with the central plot. Most affected by her parents’ estrangement, 13-year-old Tina acts out in moderate ways.  But by the end it seems to make little difference whether she will go back to Africa with them or not.

Meanwhile, back in the jungle, we watch Chinga grow to manhood and hear rumours of a Nigerian civil war (we seem to be somewhere around 1960) in a subplot that is rarely clear or dramatically compelling.

Co-directors Morris Ertman and Anthony F. Ingram overcompensate for the flat script with Luke Ertman’s excessive violin sound track and Kevin McAllister’s unnecessarily elaborate set, whose wooden platform amplifies the pounding of that stern missionary lady’s heels.  

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Monday, February 20, 2006 11:01 AM
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