Kentucky Cantata by Paul David Young is supposed to be about issues of important issues of our time including violence against women, race and immigration. However, it doesn’t rise to the importance of these.
The most unusual and attention-demanding detail in this multidisciplinary performance was the hair on the two wind musicians. Both women, accomplished musicians Ashleé Miller who plays the clarinet, and flautist Rebecca Kuehl, sport white- blonde pageboys. Unfortunately, the music, that includes Chris Funke on guitar, does little to enhance the work, in fact, it’s rather intrusive. The play’s story deals with a young woman who dreams of being an actress, encouraged by her teacher. She leaves her rural Kentucky home for New York City where she is raped and battered by an undocumented, disaffected Egyptian cab driver in a parking lot outside a Home Depot. The girl’s parents argue over her departure and relive their experiences of meeting and the subsequent sexual encounter that resulted in the girl’s birth.
Hayley Treider, as Carolyn, the young, would-be actress and Marta Reiman, playing Dora, her mother, have been ill-served by director Kathy Gail MacGowan who hasn’t extracted much genuine emotion from either. MacGowan aims to use musicians and actors as “equal storytellers” but the story they relate is a one-note rag that lacks originality. There is little nuance and although Treider aims to project the menace she’s subjected to, it doesn’t come off nor is there any chemistry between Dora and her husband, Larry, played by Dan Patrick Brady. The best performance is by Tony Naumovski as Kareen, the taxi driver who manages a reasonable accent and conveys a sense of how grim his life is and continues to be.
Installation artist Franklin Evans has provided a set illustrated with words drawn from the text, photos of the actors and pictures the actors move around that don’t relate to the action. Overall, the production is fairly predictable in a college-level, artsy fashion. I wanted to like it but, sadly, that was a challenge.
Kentucky Cantata is at HERE Arts Center through February 8th. For more information about the production, please visit http://www.kentuckycantata.com/