The Mound Builders

  • Our critic's rating:
    March 1, 2013

    There is a great deal of talk about the Mound Builders – a people who lived on this continent thousands of years ago and who are being slowly and systematically erased by people putting up parking lots. Wilson certainly makes his point that we are erasing part of ourselves with our cavalier attitude toward the archaeological treasures that lie all around us. As well, he draws a clear parallel to the care and feeding that we are also denying our own family circles. Frankly, in this very slow and uninspiring production, the Mound Builders – dead these many centuries – come off as the more compelling of the two.

    In Urbana Illinois a dig leader, August Howe (David Conrad) is reviewing the previous summer in Blue Shoals which we are about to watch fail. WE are introduced to the cast of characters, his wife Cynthia (Janie Brookshire) who is in a perpetual funk, and his daughter Kirsten (Rachel Resheff) who appears to have no reason for being there at all. Chad Jasker (Will Rogers) is the son of the landowner who, once the land is flooded, will own shorefront property that resort companies will grab up. Dr. Dan Loggins (Zachary Booth) is a passionate and buoyant soul who lives for digging, and is surprised when anyone doesn’t get what he does. His wife, Dr. Jean Loggins (Lisa Joyce) is a gynecologist who has taken a leave from her practice while she is pregnant, and is there to support her husband for the summer. Finally we have D. K. “Delia” Eriksen (Danielle Skraastad) who is literally carried in and dumped on a living room couch. She is the sister of Augustus and has been found for the umpty-umpth time wandering the streets. Delia is off her meds and in need of someone other than the authorities or the medical profession to take over. So here she is.

    Once assembled the crew carries on about their business. They move in and out of the soon to be drowned farm house with all the excitement of people on mild sedatives. In his ongoing narration, there is no foreboding of the immense disappointments on which he is reflecting and we are about to discover. He sounds a little bored and mildly annoyed that he is rehashing this event.

    The farm, it turns out, is the headquarters for the dig. Down closer to the site is a collection of young women who we never meet but who are there to volunteer at the dig if Howe allows the. As well there are the onlookers who bring picnic lunches and watch the dig. Not a lot of activity in Blue Shoals.

    And there is not a lot of activity on this stage. People smoke dope, postulate, get into arguments, and walk in and out at odd times. But no one really connects. Even smoking a cigarette seems like a chore for the actor instead of a needed aide to the character.

    When the final scenes occur, and we discover that the main players have all been involved in deceiving one another, we don’t have enough energy to drum up some excitement for these folks. The lethargy of the previous two hours has had its effect, and we leave disappointed not only in the tale but in the telling.

    As a time saver you can always go to the very excellent café at the Signature, and wander on over to the display outside the theatre. There you will find a beautifully curated storyboard detailing the importance of the Mound Builders. It is a fascinating tale that deserves a platform. This one missed the mark.

    "Slackly acted production."
    Charles Isherwood for New York Times

    "Aimless Signature Theatre excavation of Lanford Wilson’s 1975 drama."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "After plodding along for much of the evening, the plot suddenly jerks awake in the last 15 minutes, and tears off into a frantic finale — it’s as if we’re at a different play altogether. But by then the show, like the archaeologists, has dug itself into such a deep hole, it can’t get out."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Even in a flawed production it packs a walloping final payoff."
    Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

    "Is the play so uninvolving because it's a windy bore or because the stiff direction and mediocre performances make it impossible to connect to the characters? I'd go 50-50."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "Makes for a dull time."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Newsroom Jersey