chokecherry: A Thousand Miles Within a Heart

Local Arts Reviews


chokecherry: A Thousand Miles Within a Heart

The Hideout,

February 3

Deep in the Dakotas, in the smallest of schools, a woman who has wandered a thousand miles from her home in the City of Angels in search of a love that eluded her there finds her heart flowering unexpectedly before a most unexpected figure: a young girl with profound disabilities. She pauses, transfixed, surprise and wonder and yearning flashing across her face. She lifts her hand, as if to touch the girl, but then hesitates. We hear her thoughts telling us how much she wants to touch the shunt affixed to the disabled girl, and in her eyes we can see that for her it is a tunnel that will carry her directly into another's heart and perhaps to redemption.

This scene in the Bottom's Dream production of chokecherry epitomizes the strengths of this script by playwright Erik Ehn and the haunting realization of it by this fine Los Angeles theatre company. In it, as in so much of Ehn's work, we find a deep concern with geography of place and geography of spirit; where we live figures into how we live, and the terrain we cross internally is as complex and challenging to negotiate as any in the physical world. Nola is driven to break away from L.A., even though it means abandoning her longtime lover, Bram, and her connection with the child Bea, as beautiful and fulfilling as it is, brings with it a host of complications. Her odysseys entail great sacrifices. But through that powerfully charged and lyrical language that distinguishes his work, Ehn helps us feel the awe and exaltation that comes with sacrifice and the arrival at one's spiritual home.

That language may strike even more deeply here than in some productions of Ehn's work because Bottom's Dream has given it space to breathe. Director James Martin has staged the production at a very measured pace, with many pauses. With some dramas, that might drag the show down, but with chokecherry it gives Ehn's striking phrases and poetic insights time to register with the audience and even allow us room to reflect on them. In that pivotal scene when Nola first connects with Bea, the pacing opens us up to the power of that moment for Nola and allows Bonita Friedericy full space to convey that to us in word and expression and gesture. She's an actor of such range and care that a multitude of feelings washes over us, and the same can be said of her two colleagues in the show, Mitchell Gossett and Jennifer Griffin. Among the three of them, we journey a thousand miles inside our own hearts.

Alas, Bottom's Dream was able to present only two-thirds of the finished work for Austin audiences. Anyone in Austin wishing to see the complete version of chokecherry will need to travel to L.A. to see it. That is, unless they can be persuaded to return and do it here again. I'd be happy to help make that journey happen.

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