A review of Book-It Repertory Theatre's excellent new stage adaptation of "Border Songs," a winning novel written by Olympia author Jim Lynch.
Theater review |
Olympia novelist Jim Lynch is an expert at conjuring appealing Northwest oddballs more in tune with the natural world than the man-made one. And Book-It Repertory Theatre triumphs at breathing vibrant life into them onstage.
The theater and author were in perfect sync in Book-It’s strong 2008 dramatization of Lynch’s book “The Highest Tide.” Now Book-It repeats the charm, and then some, in a soulful, fully engaging new adaptation of Lynch’s more recent best-seller, “Border Songs.”
The protagonist here is the one-of-a-kind Brandon Vanderkool. And actor Patrick Allcorn captures movingly all the gifts and challenges of this big, gentle, socially inept fellow — a guy so dyslexic he can barely fill out a simple government form in his job as a U.S. border patrolman near Blaine, Wash.
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But Brandon has other qualities his bosses prize. An obsessive bird watcher, his keen visual acuity makes him an ace spotter of drug smugglers and other miscreants. And for all his quirks, Brandon is also loving, fearless and inherently incorruptible.
On Carol Wolfe Clay’s open, flexible set, director David Quicksall propels us into Lynch’s eventful plot and circle of colorful characters.
Brandon’s caring parents have their own worries: His dad, Norm, is a burned-out dairy farmer, played with earthy warmth and depth by Jim Gall. His sweet, foggy wife, Jeanette (poignant Molly Thompson), may have early Alzheimer’s.
Across the border and over the backyard fence live contentious Wayne (Andrew DeRycke), another, crankier eccentric, and Wayne’s waifish, troubled daughter Madeline (Helen Harvester), whom Brandon pines for.
Though Madeline rebuffs him, Brandon’s tough, sexy co-worker Dionne (Hannah Victoria Franklin) tries her luck with him in a humorous seduction scene.
Another neighbor, the newcomer Sophie (Rachel Glass) is, like Brandon, an obsessive watcher too, and something of a mystery.
On Clay’s semiabstract set drug busts, family dinners and massages smoothly unfold, and a sculpture garden (with fascinating works inspired by the brilliant nature sculptures of Andrew Goldsworthy) crops up.
The two-hour show can’t contain all of the novel. But as in the book, its characters face many borders and divides — geographic, emotional, social, criminal. And the tale’s compassionate, hopeful outlook at the end is not entirely rose-colored.
Quicksall’s production, and the cut-to-the-core adaptation by Bryan Willis and Quicksall, keep things honest. And the actors, at ease with the Book-It blend of spoken narration and dialogue, do too.
Harvester’s wildly naive Madeline stands out, as does Gall’s Norm, a good man so burdened with failures you root for him to go bad.
And Allcorn comes into his own here, shedding some of his excesses in earlier roles. His Brandon isn’t quite as tall as the 6-foot-8 giant Lynch describes. But his big heart is very much in the same place.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org