Alabama Rain | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader
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ALABAMA RAIN

Halcyone Productions

at Shattered Globe Theatre

We know something strange is going on when we hear that it hasn't rained in the town of Culman for 40 years. And when Rachel, the fourth of the five LaDean sisters, declares that time has stood still there, she means it literally--third sister Monty Lou, for instance, is doomed to be "pregnant for the rest of her natural life." The delicate, psychic second sister, Laurie Laurie (named for both grandmothers), has constructed a legend around the long-dry bottom of the well, whose fearful mysteries are all too plausible to a generation raised on Coca-Cola and suchlike--to whom water is only a dream from antiquity.

"When torpor has ruled the land for as long as it has in our parts, one little change can tap on that first domino," says oldest sister Pheenie, who initiates change by deciding to see for herself the great ocean she's read about. Learning that the head of their household has left with a suitcase and their late mother's winter coat, Laurie Laurie, who "doesn't take well to change," promptly dies of shock. She refuses to be buried, however, which leaves Rachel and youngest sister Dallas to cope with a putrefying corpse in the parlor and a whining, troublesome ghost in the tree out front. In addition they've got to deal with selfish, shrewish Monty Lou, who has taken to her bed to wallow in pettish lassitude.

Alabama Rain is, of course, an allegory about women putting the past behind them and taking control of their lives, whether by stubbornly submitting entries to a contest that promises a cash prize of mind-boggling magnitude or braving the unknown terrors of the labyrinth at the bottom of the well. Heather McCutchen's play is not merely another Beth Henley-style porch sitter, however, but a parable solidly grounded in American myth and the magic indigenous to the mountains that border northern Alabama. As Pheenie makes her journey along the coast to Cape Canaveral, where even the sky is no limit, her sisters make their spiritual journeys toward independence and maturity. And as the fear that has so oppressed them lifts, so does the plague on their town.

This is pretty far-reaching stuff for a summer evening in the tiny Shattered Globe theater, but McCutchen's tightly crafted narrative, Christine Hartman's meticulous direction, and the superb ensemble work of her perfectly chosen cast keep us firmly oriented and comfortable. Tina Fey as Dallas, Elizabeth Swan as Rachel, Jennifer Yeo (of the comically mobile face) as Monty Lou, Rachel Singer as Laurie Laurie, and Adrianne Cury as Pheenie wear their characters like second skins (Cury in particular shifts between omniscient narrator, no-nonsense big sister, and awed explorer with seamless skill). They interact with one another so naturally that it really seems as if these five women have lived all their lives in the same house.

Set designer Mark McNeill has reproduced a corner of rural America whose earthy details--the leaky drainpipe on the porch, for example--are as telling as the details of Yeo's costumes: changing clothes is very important in this play. And sound designer Glenn Swan contributes some nice, ominous leviathan-esque music.

"Laurie Laurie believed that everything had a meaning," Pheenie tells us. "And so--it usually did." Though our region is in anything but a state of drought, Alabama Rain's reminder of the bond between nature and humankind is timely, as is its faith that miracles come to those who seek them.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Suzanne Plunkett.

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