by Marcina Zaccaria . . .

With two plays, The Mound Builders: Disunion and Sympathetic Magic, Open Circle Play Factory asks us to remember Playwright Lanford Wilson, one of the founders of Circle Repertory Company.

Searching at a dig in Southern Illinois, a team of archeologists attempt to find treasure beneath the site.  As they survey and excavate, they lean toward the mystic, unearthing gold and copper, relics of an Indian God-King.  Convinced in his intent to inspire, August, played by Jeffrey C. Wolf, studies photo after photo of the site.  Fortified by his sister, a type of genius traveler and writer, he leads the Southern Illinois team to explore the lake, hills, and larger landscape. 

What is left behind is a type of time capsule where we can explore the America of 1975.  In that year, the play was first performed at Circle Repertory Company.  Director Mac McCarty shows us that ensemble is everything, particularly as the male/ female dynamic builds.  McCarty is particularly sensitive to these moments, staging the team of women, sage-like as though at counsel, weighing their hope and despair.  Meanwhile, men trudge in boots taped together shoddily, searching for a glimmer of the fish monster in the lake before breaking out in explosive arguments about land that drive the play forward.  August commands stage center, yet shadows back quite often, as if watching the other players with a serene, almost meditative consciousness.    

In Act II, the archeological dig around the lake proves to be more fascinating than tiresome.  Debate about the pyramids weighs so differently than the pedestrian yearning for tennis courts.  Things fall apart and things come together.  Polished is the vision of August as an anchor, as he mightily tackles the great problems of the past.  The poetic language is rhythmic and sometimes stunning, and I’m certain that Part 2: Sympathetic Magic would contain more of the deep interest in what holds people together through it all.

For Open Circle Play Factory, that interest is not a labor of love, but rather the most essential aspect of performance.  Lanford Wilson passed away at age 73 in 2011, but his work is not forgotten.  With a deep appreciation of technique, McCarty channels Lanford Wilson’s writing to uncover the soul of the ensemble, thriving, sending across points of light that illuminate the stage.  

The Mound Builders is playing through Saturday, December 18th at Theatre Five at Theatre Row, located at 410 W. 42nd Street in NYC.

Photos: Maria Baranova