Raw milk is liquid gold. Or so Eliza (Allison Turkel), the human matriarch of Red Robin Farm, believes. It’s nutritious and pure, and she thinks it will save her derelict, multi-generational dairy farm, which has fallen in disrepair for myriad reasons, including the government regulation banning the direct sale of raw milk for drinking. But, there is an underground demand for this perceived elixir with people willing to pay a premium.
Harriet (Jennifer Barry), Eliza’s younger sister, would like to see the place dismantled for cash. She hates cows. Very specifically the “Carolines”—a type of black and white heifer that makes the farm its money—because her father cherished them more than her. Jamie (Rebecca Korn), Eliza’s teenage daughter, is more entrepreneurial in her ideas for saving the farm.
While Raw follows Eliza, Jamie, and Harriet through a rollercoaster of emotion as they struggle over their inheritance—an act hastened by the appearance of Chuck (Patrick Gorirossi), a government official and friend who warns Eliza of the dangers in selling raw milk. The play refrains from passing judgment, something director Deborah Randall says plainly in the playbill.
No worries, because Caroline, nee Wilemina (Katie Jeffries), is there it to do that for us. Yes, Caroline is a cow. A documentary-making bovine recording the unfolding drama. Her motives, though, for filming circle less around seeing the farm fail or succeed—with or without raw milk—than around her own vengeance.
Jeffries is brilliant as a cow, and has mastered an intense wide-eyed stare that projects unease, curiosity, and contempt all at once. She raves in controlled fashion from the get-go as she addresses the audience, who she allows to watch unedited film. You are there because she lets you be there; the power is all hers. She controls the “footage,” pausing when it suits her to interject, whether it’s to provide backstory or to simply stop the humans from berating her and her kind. Jeffries is not only brilliant, but elegant, draped in black lace and a Holstein colored shawl. She wears a mask with a prominent snout that leaves her animated, human eyes exposed and gives her a top knot of scratch-able fuzz (kudos to Tara Cariaso for such a great mask).
Raw is a timely piece of social observation (raw milk is now legal to sell in select places in Maryland) that raises questions not only about the human experience, but also animal experience. It doesn’t answer many of them, but it surely pokes around a lot, leaving it up to the audience to take what they will.
And there is a lot for the taking, whether you choose to linger on the relationships within families and among women, so expertly depicted by the trio of Turkel, Barry, and Korn, the treatment of animals, the government’s interest in farming, or the public health concerns attached to consuming bacteria laden, un-pasteurized milk.
October 22 – November 15, 2015
21 C Street
Laurel, MD 20707
1 hour, 40 minutes with no intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Allison Turkel is perfectly cast as busy, busy, busy Eliza, trying to salvage her livelihood. While Becca Korn, as the teenaged Jamie learning hard truths about her family and the farming industry, brings a charismatic, energetic naivety that keeps the play from getting bogged down in all the bad that arises from bickering families. Barry is great at being the aloof, privileged, better-than-you victim Harriet. All three have something to lose in their tug-of-war, but Jamie has the most at stake since her future is not yet set, which makes the ending all the more heart-wrenching.
I walked out of Raw feeling all sorts of unsure. What to say. What not to say. It is a play pretending to be a documentary directed by a cow with raw milk and revenge and hubris at its core. Great acting? For sure. Stellar direction? Of course. Randall never fails there. Good script? Yeah, Amy Bernstein’s writing is engaging and interesting and committed to this offbeat premise.
And then a day passed, then two, and I realized that I had rarely stopped thinking about it. And not because I had to write a review, but because it got under my skin in a good way, making me wonder about the complex ecosystem of life that keeps the world turning—from familial relationships to how our own identity ties to our work or our bonds with others and how all of that comprises the human experience, which has a profound effect on the natural world. Right down to cows out to pasture.
As I said, there is a lot you can take from Raw, but it’s not overcrowded with ideas or heavy-handed. In fact, it is simultaneously amusing and thoughtful, and does not at all ridicule, which could have easily been the case. Like any good documentary, it observes more than it persuades and ask the viewer to consider multiple stances before judging.
Director Deborah Randall has a knack for finding hidden gems and polishing them to perfection. Raw is no exception; it’s a one-of-a-kind play, and in it she has constructed a palpable world wherein a cow can ruminate as much as you or I and then speak her mind as effectively as any human storyteller. She’s also chosen the right actors, who make a strange and irreverent show flash by as seamlessly as a ream of silk, and capped Venus’ fable season with a fanciful yarn.
Raw by Amy Bernstein . Directed by Deborah Randall . Featuring Katie Jeffries, Allison Turkel, Jennifer Barry, Becca Korn, and Patrick Gorirossi . Scenic Design: Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden . Lighting Design: Amy Rhodes . Sound Design: Neil McFadden . Props and Costumes: Mask: Tara Cariaso and Waxing Moon Masks (Cow Mask) . Produced by Venus Theatre . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.