The FJC drama department took a flawed script last Friday and produced an enjoyable opening-night performance of "The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail."The Lawrence and Lee script has little conflict. It's largely a dramatization of Thoreau's ideas rather than a drama of his conflicts with concrete obstacles. So he goes to jail rather than pay his poll tax. So what? WE know that he's not going to rot in jail. WE know he's in no real danger of prison-guard brutality. We sympathize with his objection to war, but many today are spending years in prison rather than fight in Vietnam. By comparison, Thoreau's "conflict" seems minor.
What makes the FJC production worth seeing is how well the cast and technicians cope with this script and transform it into something enjoyable and meaningful.
The acting was superb opening night. The demands upon Sheldon Craig (Thoreau) were many; he had to be onstage constantly calmly teaching his cellmate Bailey (Mike LaValley) how to write his name one moment and feverishness arguing with Ralph Waldo Emerson (Thomas Wood) the next. Craig made the best of a wordy, physically demanding role and played and played it with believably and near-perfect control.
Thomas Wood's Emerson was the modern of moderation and thoughtfulness. Mike LaValley's Bailey was warmly naive and never merely a faceless, stock version of peasantry. Other fine performances were achieved by Daren Kelly as Thoreau's brother John, Linda Sheehan s Thoreau's mother, Janice Wood as Emerson's wife and Lynn Christensen as Ellen.
By its nature as a drama partly of Thoreau's subconscious, "Thoreau" relies heavily on technical effect to make an otherwise confusing script cohesive and understandable The audio and lighting achieved that cohesion with complex and varied techniques including kinetic projection, stroboscopic lighting, and martial music. Chuck Kading's set, 22 colorfully- washed platforms surrounding a jail cell, provided a workable and pleasing scene of action for the actors to work on.
Throughout "Thoreau," George Archambeault's direction seemed poseful and complete. Even in difficult pantomime, his actors performed with motivation and movement toward unity of theme. Night Thoreau Spent In Jail Will close with performances tonight and Saturday evening
Tickets may be purchased in the Theatre Arts patio area or box office.