Created and co-presented by the Welsh theater company Motherlode, this 80-minute play is a marvelous blend of song, movement and stage pictures. With minimal elements it’s pure theater and also a flavorful slice of regional life.
The splendid ensemble is also comprised of Rachael Boulton, Anni Dafydd, Kate Elis and Michael Humphreys. These five dynamic performers colorfully portray members of a Welsh family, as well as each playing a villager, all with strong but intelligible accents.
Inspired by real events in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the plot concerns the impending relocation from their vintage dwellings to a new housing development. This is being implemented by local and national authorities due to the concern that a mountain in the area is sliding and will eventually destroy a nearby street. Some residents are passionately resisting this resettlement.
Ms. Boulton is the founder and artistic director of the company and she devised the concept and script in collaboration with company members Hanna Brunt, Max Mackintosh, Anna-Marie Paraskeva, Emma Vickery and Sarah Winn. It’s composed of a series of short and effective scenes that evoke the sense of place and realizes the characters.
Interspersed with the action are stirring acapella performances by the cast of classic Welsh songs under the accomplished musical direction of Mr. Mackintosh. These were first recorded in New York, in 1965 by Welsh language activist Dr. Meredydd Evans.
Scenic designer Buddug James Jones inspired minimalist work has a collection of steel cylinders of varying sizes as the background. Office like furniture of three rectangular tables and four chairs are all that is used to create the numerous images and locales. The actors vigorously move these around to achieve that. Mr. Jones’ costumes are realistic street clothes including overalls and sneakers for Jackie.
The many moods, places and people that are depicted are conveyed by Katy Morrison’s imaginatively sustained lighting design. An assemblage of well timed shifts of lightness and darkness simply but powerfully adds scope to the presentation.
Boulton also directed the production and her work in that regard is perfection. Visually it’s a small-scale spectacle and a great display of physical theater yielding precise and vivid imagery. The actors forcefully conjure up so much with only their voices and bodies. Their characterizations are all uniformly vibrant, bold and emotional.
Narrative momentum slows in the second half after the conflict and the characters have been established but The Good Earth’s superior stagecraft carries it through to its moving conclusion.
The Good Earth (through September 3, 2016)
The Flea Theater, 41 White Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.theflea.org
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission