What do you say, as a child, when you see a Coyote hanging on a fence? If your name is Bobby Reyburn you take in the lesson about predators given by a favorite uncle.
COYOTE ON A FENCE by Bruce Graham, now playing at Colonial Playhouse is a challenging play for any theater group to attempt. Most Community Theater or “Little Theatre” groups never put it on because of that fact. Colonial does an admirable job with this dark, but occasionally funny, look at prison life. And not just any type of prison life – but the life on “death row”.
John Brennan (Kurt Kohl) is an editor of the prison newspaper and an inmate of this prison, located somewhere in the south. He is educated, well-spoken, speaks calmly, and seems to fancy himself somewhat of an intellectual. Bobby Reyburn (Daryan Borys), is exactly the opposite. A “dumb hick”, uneducated, uses slang, and is prone to fits of outrage. They are both attended by Shawna DuChamps (TS Baynes) a no nonsense prison guard.
These two men become as John says, not “cell mates”, because of the connotation; but “cell partners”. It is their two stories which Bruce Graham dissects in this play.
John’s newspaper prints articles by, and obituaries of, the members of death row. The paper’s circulation extends outside the walls of the prison, even across “the pond” to England, from where a BBC team comes to film him. The BBC finds the obituaries unique. They promise the frank program will not appear on TV here. But it does. John loses privileges and is suspicious when reporter Sam Fried (Chuck Beishl) wants to do an interview. You must attend a performance to learn what transpires.
The ensemble acting by the cast is at times uneven. Sometimes things click, but at other points they fall flat. There sometimes was a shortage of specific character focus and energy. Even the end of the play was unclear.
The pace of the show seemed to drag and in order for us in the audience to be thrown off balance, as the play requires, the pace needs to be tighter, in my opinion.
I liked the set design by Kurt Kohl. Its detail and use of what seems to be real prison plumbing fixtures are quite striking. That might be what prompted the director (Todd Holtsberry), who did the curtain speech, to ask for donations – as he went a bit over budget. But it is well worth the expense.
The only problem with the set, for me, was the time spent in full stage light, for each change, shifting from the prison interior to the exercise yard. Using covering dialogue or doing the change in black or low light (after the first one) would help keep the show moving.
But even with my small quibbles, this production is definitely worth your time and attention. If you have seen Bruce Graham’s lighter work, be prepared for a change of gear and a compelling evening of theater.
COYOTE ON A FENCE
by Bruce Graham
Directed by Todd Holtsberry
November 5 – 20, 2010
Ridley and Magnolia Avenues