The Purple Rose theater lights go dark. There is a moment of silence, followed by the sharp crack of a thunderbolt. Seconds later, strobe-lightning reveals movement: a writhing, convoluted Native-American ghost dance. It is the prophesied white buffalo, struggling to be born, an event that promises the beginning of an extended era of prosperity and peace.
As day breaks, we are on the Wisconsin farm of Carol Gelling (Michelle Mountain), a tenacious single mother trapped in an ongoing battle with Abby (Staci Hadgikosti), her troubled, suffering teenage daughter. They have experienced multiple losses, but now seem to have been blessed with the phenomena of a one-in-10-million birth — a purely white buffalo calf.
Is it a blessing or a curse? Will they keep the animal or sell her for millions of dollars, which could wipe away their day-to-day financial struggles and allow Abby to attend the college of her choice?
Daughter and mother are at the heart of this story, as youthful idealism fights with the pragmatic wisdom of life experience. Hadgikosti and Mountain are well-matched; ferocious intensity and unrelenting determination light up the stage.
Alex Leydenfrost is the prodigal father, Mike, returning after an eight-year absence, in recovery from drug abuse and wanting to reconcile with Carol. Leydenfrost and Mountain create a raging and tender word-dance of painful reconciliation.
Sioux ghost dancers hover, appear and disappear in a continuous mist. Their energy is magical. The constant juxtaposition of painful everyday realities combined with a form of mystic realism smartly contrasts the bi-cultural spiritual elements of this play. When do we embrace a mythic belief and when do we dismiss it? What might transform and heal us as we recover from tragic losses?
“White Buffalo” is a weighty play, stirring up sobering questions of faith and belief. Writer Don Zolidis and Purple Rose artistic director Guy Sanville have collaborated effectively, merging and marrying competing forms of theater to create something unique.
Purple Rose Theatre
137 Park St., Chelsea
Through June 2
3 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 2 p.m. Sundays
$25 Wednesdays and Thursdays; $35 Fridays and Saturday and Sunday matinees; $40 Saturday evenings