Bend in the River

Deep Water Theatre Collective mount Bend in the River: a tender, Thornton Wilder-esque look at the modest living of lepers. The place: Marine Hospital 66 in Carville, Louisiana. The time: 1941. The subject: A possible cure for leprosy, or, as the biographical Dr. Faget calls it, Hansen’s Disease. Meet the patients, the struggles, the suffering and, ultimately, the brighter side of a stigmatising disease in WWII-era America.

It’s a difficult task to track seven characters over two years, but T.S. Hays and Dustin Ballard’s plate-spinning act pulls it off

There’s a perfectly balanced script here. It’s a difficult task to track seven characters over two years, but T.S. Hays and Dustin Ballard’s plate-spinning act pulls it off. It’s got something, too, that most Fringe theatre doesn’t have: it nails its length. A neat fifty minutes is all that’s needed, though I suspect with such writing talent they could‘ve aimed for something longer.

There is a pre-eminent plotline, however, and it is the main one: the love story between Evangeline, the fledgling sufferer, and Gabe, the long-term patient with a bandaged face. It’s unadorned, sure, but the performances, by Aubrey Hays and Kristofer Adkins, are so earnest and so sad that even the most po-faced will feel for them. Adkins charms and Hays, in particular, wields gloriously lachrymose expressions.

This pair could easily hold one’s attention for the entire play. Not that there’s merit lacking in the show’s other tales: Ryan’s Pierini Stanley Stein offers the maturer, less blue-sky side to the hospital, but his presence is a boon. Nevertheless, the cast is still a mixed bag. There’s faltering and false reactions: some actors fail to react in a justifiable way given the rather grave circumstances, and some line readings work out dodgy.

On a more technical level there’s not much here that adds to the dexterous script. Each actor sits onstage, surrounding and viewing the action while providing a hand in fumbly scene changes. It’s a bit ungainly, not so much producing Brechtian alienation as being distracting. But, there’s the odd additive spark, like Adkins’ recollection of his drug trial history, which suggests that more inspiration could yield more zest. The majority is mostly plain. Which is fine, yet there’s that nagging sense of a missing direction, something to tie the fragile staging together and make it the blended piece it wants it be.

Deep Water Theatre Collective’s only here for a week, after not quite getting their Indiegogo campaign off the ground. Here’s to a well-financed next year, because it’s clear the company has talent. Yes, they should sure up their direction, but one has to respect what they’re putting on show: the focus on the hidden ground of the American South has me hopeful for an even niftier play in 2017.

Reviews by Oliver Simmonds

Quaker Meeting House

One for the Road

★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Taiwan Season: Solo Date

★★★
Summerhall

All In

★★
Spotlites

Single Varietal

Summerhall

Camille

★★★★
Greenside @ Infirmary Street

Ears on a Beatle

★★

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

When a young girl from New Orleans contracts leprosy, she is hidden away from the world and becomes one of the secret people of Carville, Louisiana. A southern gothic tale, a journey of courage and hope, told with original and traditional American roots music. The Deep Water Theatre Collective is a group of writers, actors, and musicians rooted in the American south, dedicated to uncovering and telling untold stories that challenge and transform both artist and audience.

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