InterAct Starts 23rd Season with Religious Zealousness: SILVERHILL

by Ellen Wilson Dilks

I count myself among those in the theatre community who feel theatre should provoke conversations about life and important issues, as well as entertain. Some of my favorite moments as an audience member have been when a production has forced me to question my views on something. When it reaches into my id….. When I can’t stop talking about it and analyzing it on the way home. 

Left to Right: Dan Hodge (as Frank), Jessica DalCanton (as Tirzah), and Nancy Boykin (as Kate) in InterAct Theatre Company’s World Premiere production of SILVERHILL. Written by Philadelphia playwright Thomas Gibbons and directed by Seth Rozin, SILVERHILL runs October 22 - November 14, 2010. Photo by Seth Rozin and courtesy of InterAct Theatre Company.


InterAct’s current production, SILVERHILL, onstage at the Adrienne’s main space, is such a play. The latest work by playwright-in-residence Thomas Gibbons, the piece was inspired by the real-life story of The Oneida Community in upstate New York. Gibbons has beautifully crafted a compelling story. We are taken back to the late 1800s to a large farm where a group of about 300 people are practicing “Biblical Communism.” For 30 years they have worked the land together and sold the fruits of their labor, as well as their handcrafts, to support themselves. Everything is owned communally—even their clothes. No one has their own money or possessions; it is all part of the communal pot. They also believe in something they call “Complex Marriage.” People are paired together by the elders of the community, but marriage is not exclusive—everyone sleeps with multiple partners. All have been quite happy at SILVERHILL, singing as they work and worship.

Until the young man they have chosen to be their agent to the outside world starts bringing its ideas to the other young adults of the community.

Frank Taylor (Dan Hodge) came to SILVERHILL as a young boy; his father had failed in life and was destitute. The commune gave father and son refuge. Frank has fallen in love with Tirzah Palmer (Jessica DalCanton), and she with him. Tirzah is the daughter of one of the original members—and the current favorite bed-partner of their charismatic founder and leader, Alden Prescott (Chris Coucill). Frank and Tirzah decide they want to be married in the traditional sense, which has a dual effect: it gets another young couple, Annie Major (Mary Toumanen) and Howard Baxter (Pierce Cravens) to want the same thing and it angers Alden greatly. Things soon start falling apart in SILVERHILL’s Utopia.

Helping Alden try to preserve the dream are his wife Kate (Nancy Boykin) and their long-time friend—and Tirzah’s father—Erastus Palmer (Tim Moyer). As the young people start questioning the beliefs of their elders, you see Alden’s weaknesses—and hypocrisy—exposed. One is left wondering if his reasons for starting the venture were ever truly altruistic.

InterAct states their mission as “producing new and contemporary plays that explore the issues of our time.” It may be set over 100 years ago, during the country’s “Gilded Age,” but SILVERHILL definitely has parallels to today’s world. It was the love of money and material things that created the current economic meltdown. We can hopefully fix our future by not forgetting our past.

Director Seth Rozin has hit every note of the script perfectly; my companion and I were totally drawn in to the world of SILVERHILL and its inhabitants. Rozin has balanced the comic moments of the script beautifully with the emotionally charged ones, getting wonderfully nuanced performances out of each member of this solid ensemble of actors. Nick Embree’s scenic design, which starts out showing us the gates to the commune, is deceptively simple and uses the small space of The Adrienne to full effect, moving the action smoothly along. The actors deftly shift the few furniture pieces as needed to create the various locales of the commune. Lightning designer Peter Whinnery and Sound Designer Kevin Francis bring just the right mix to the production, helping to put the viewer totally into the “spirit.” Obviously inspired by the Amish and the polygamy cults of Utah, Rosemarie McKelvey works her usual costume magic, ably assisted by the properties designers. Props to Avista Custom Theatrical Services.

I strongly urge everyone to see this powerful production—you will be talking about it for hours afterwards. Questions are still reeling around in my head…. Add to that the joy of seeing truly gifted actors bring a wonderful script to life under the guidance of an exceedingly talented director and I was in heaven for two hours and 10 minutes.

October 22 – November 14, 2010
By Thomas Gibbons
Directed by Seth Rozin
InterAct Theatre Company
@ The Adrienne�
2030 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA

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