Friday, Feb. 21 — Contrary to the eloquently expressed opinion of William Shakespeare, all the world is not a stage. Lanford Wilson’s script for “Redwood Curtain,” playing through March 15 at the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, suggests that it is possible for people to step away from the fury of the madding crowd, to seek solitude and serenity in the quiet, stately forests of the Pacific Northwest.
This is a story of lost souls. There’s Lyman (Alex Leydenfrost), a brain-injured Vietnam-era combat engineer with the military occupation specialty of blowing up bridges. And there’s Geri (Rainbow Dickerson), a 17-year-old Vietnamese-American piano prodigy searching in the woods for her biological father. Is Lyman the one, she wonders, or just another of the 3,000 to 8,000 soldiers who have disappeared into the woods upon returning from a traumatic heinous war?
Dickerson plays Geri as an exuberant word-rich searcher for answers with a penchant for the psychic. Who am I and from whence did I come? Who was my mother? Why do I feel empty, disconnected from my roots? Dickerson’s performance is wide-ranging, from innocent sylph to frustrated complainer, displaying multiple emotions, from compassion and kindness to confusion and chaos. She nails it all.
Her performance is balanced delicately against Lyman, a bearded mountain man who at first, seems to be a soulless creature, a swamp thing of few words with an emotional range of zero. Portraying emptiness, the absence of feelings is not easy, yet Leydenfrost pulls it off. Then in a stunning reversal of character, he opens up completely to reveal a hidden truth.
Michelle Mountain adds a third element in the play. Her character, Geneva, is Geri’s wealthy aunt, faced with a moral dilemma as to whether to sell her multi-acre stand of giant redwoods to a corporation that might clear-cut them or keep them to protect the integrity of their 1,000 years on earth. Geneva also knows more of the secret family history of Geri’s adoption. Mountain’s portrayal is solid. One gets a sense of a person of wealth and privilege with an equal amount of ethics and courage.
Vincent Mountain’s set is a dazzling three-dimensional diorama of trees and waist-high ferns, a vast window into a realm of nature and beauty so realistic one can almost imagine wandering endlessly amidst the solitude of the wise redwoods.
There is more to this story, however, than the tale itself, larger than the struggle of the individual characters. Wilson’s script in action is not unlike listening to a spoken-word version of a great novel. Words are full of existential import. Each character expounds meaningful emotional and psychological truths. This is a sweeping saga of lost innocence, a prophetic warning to us all as to the vacuous potential of the immediate future, and how easy it is to lose one’s self in the emptiness of our post-modern apocalypse- focused world.
The Purple Rose Theatre Co.
Through March 15
3 p.m. & 8 p.m. Wednesdays & Saturdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 2 p.m. Sundays
$27 Wednesdays & Thursdays; $37 Fridays, Saturday matinees and Sundays; $42 Saturday evenings
137 Park St., Chelsea
(734) 433-7673, purplerosetheatre.org