I’m going to spoil one of the twists in A Burial Place for you. It comes about 25 minutes into this 100-minute production of A Burial Place, and sadly those first minutes before learning the twist are kind of, well, boring. Whether this is a flaw in Owen Panettieri’s generally keen script, or a lack of attention to subtext on the part of the cast or director, I’m not sure; but I do know that the play becomes much more interesting after the reveal.
The Wheel Theatre Company is a young company, putting on its third show; on their website they describe the play as about three college-age boys whose annual summer sleepover is disturbed by a major police investigation happening in their town, possibly connected to their past. Where the magic comes in
– last chance to exit this review and avoid the spoilers (or skip down two paragraphs) –
is when we learn that one of the boys only exists on that one night. Yes, exists. He had vanished without a trace several years prior, but somehow shows up to the sleepover each year with no memory of his own disappearance, and is gone again by morning, with any possible evidence of his paranormal visit magically erased.
Is he a ghost? A demon? A hallucination? An imposter? The fully real boys – Emmett (Colton Needles) and Colby (Alex Lew) – try to make some sense of this ongoing mystery, although even the vanishing one, Marcus (Philip Kershaw), doesn’t seem to have ready answers. The best thing about this story is the matter-of-fact magical realism at play, and how it draws us on and gives us a chance to get to know these complex characters and come to care for them a little.
Kershaw, in particular, makes Marcus the kind of guy we wish we could be childhood friends with, no easy task given the uncertainty of his situation. Needles does a fine job overall as well, but Lew, while committed, shows a lack of training in his sometimes forced portrayal. Between the acting work and the direction of Elizabeth Floyd there may be a reason for the slackness in the play’s early going.
A Burial Place
closes March 17, 2018
Details and tickets
In fact, even after that twist, while the tale grows more interesting, it never quite comes together, and I am tempted to think the company was sadly under-rehearsed. Simple details like one character being chipper when another character’s line at that exact moment tells him to stop being mopey betray an incomplete follow-through. For want of these small moments and more, the bigger picture is missing, and thus a lot of the emotional impact and ongoing tension is lost.
It’s not all dire, though – merely unsatisfying. Kershaw, Lew, and Needles have an engaging rapport, and tend to hit it out of the park whenever their teenage characters go into sarcastic or teasing mode or whenever they take a geeky dive into childhood obsessions like Bionicle or Super Smash Bros. Panettieri avoids any easy answers, and the company as well avoids cheap melodrama, allowing the ending to alight on a sweet moment. The props (designed by director Floyd) are spot-on and practically a fourth character in the show.
It’s a promising third production for The Wheel, in that it points towards a growing identity as a purveyor of magical realism in emotionally detailed plays. We can hope that with some more resources (the entire behind-the-scenes team for A Burial Place consists of only two people!) they’ll be able to realize their budding vision more thoroughly next time.
A Burial Place by Owen Panettieri . Directed by Elizabeth Floyd . Featuring Philip Kershaw, Alex Lew, Colton Needles . Props and Set Design: Elizabeth Floyd . Lighting Design: Jack Read. Stage Manager: Jack Read . Produced by The Wheel Theatre Company. Reviewed by Brett Steven Abelman.