“One crow sorrow, Two crows joy…Three crows a letter, Four crows a boy.”
Childhood memories, we all have them. And if we have siblings, we tend to relive them whenever we gather. Some things are crystal clear, others are fuzzy. Sometimes we disagree on how events played out; and other things we can’t—or won’t—remember at all. This is the framework Curio Artistic Director Paul Kuhn was working in when he wrote MADVILLE in 2003.
“Five crows silver, Six crows gold, Seven crows a secret never to be told.”
Semi-autobiographical, it is the story of a man who has taken his family to live on a remote track of land in Nova Scotia. Art, the father, (Kuhn) is a piano-tuner who dreams of being a composer. Frustrated by his failures in the city, he heads off to the wilds, family in tow. To say they are totally unprepared for living off the land would be an understatement. There’s mother Joanna (Jennifer Summerfield) who seems to have retreated into her own world in order to cope. Yet she has tremendous love for her five children, trying her best to hold it together and provide the basic necessities for them.
The story is relayed by four of the children. Peter (Eric Scotolati) seems to be the youngest—and the primary historian; Daniel (Josh Hitchens) is the sensitive one. The ringleader is Sol (Harry Slack), he comes up with all of the ideas for the others to do—which reminded me of my older brother. The only female is Alice (Rachel Gluck). She is trying hard to be tough and not get overpowered by her brothers. As the only girl with three brothers, I totally related to her character. Steve Carpenter plays eldest child Joshua. He is more of an observer throughout, occasionally commenting on what the others say and do.
I don’t really want to reveal any more of the plot; it is multi-layered and has some interesting surprises for the viewer. As usual, the Curio Company offers solid ensemble work, under the deft direction of Rosemary Fox. There is a chorale aspect to the piece, with actors layering lines on top of each other to slowly mete out the story of this family’s struggles—and dysfunction.
Kuhn again serves double duty by providing yet another intriguing set design. We are greeted by a stark woodland slope with assorted household items scattered about and rudimentary shelters of branches. Aetna Gallagher (Kuhn’s real-life sister) has dressed the actors appropriately, showing both their poverty and a hint of their character. Lighting was designed by Tim Martin, setting the correct desolate mood. Sound was provided by Kuhn’s piano playing—is there anything this man can’t do?
Curio’s productions always intrigue me and I spend many hours thinking about them after the performance. They are wonderful storytellers, and this one certainly stays with you. One can’t help but want to chat with Kuhn—and his sister—to see how much is embellishment and how much is real. As I was viewing the piece, at times I was put in mind of the vagabond upbringing that River Phoenix and his siblings had as their parents followed a cult to South America. I was also thinking about poor Andrea Yates who was forced to live in a bus in the middle of nowhere with her five children because her husband wanted to adhere to the beliefs of another religious zealot. We all know how horribly that turned out. In spite of what was obviously an unusual and challenging upbringing, the Kuhn siblings have become talented, productive contributors to their art and their community.
By all means, challenge yourself and go see MADVILLE AT Curio. It is running weekends from now until April 13th. I guarantee you will be thinking about the story for quite some time after the performance. Kuhn’s script raises a lot of questions of how our childhood memories impact our entire lives.
by Paul Kuhn
Directed by Rosemary Fox
March 20—April 13, 2013
Curio Theatre Company
4740 Baltimore Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19143