Winter in Graupel Bay

Our Town meets our town in Buntportís latest.

When you enter Buntport Theater, you find yourself facing what looks like the front of a long, low, open dollhouse with rooms on two floors. These spaces are inhabited by various eccentric characters. There’s Polly, the little girl who serves as narrator; a pair of gossiping old crones; the hapless and perennially unemployed Andrew Fromer, with his dreams about a vaudevillian grandfather who played the rear end of a horse and longed to play the front. Bruce Bentley is a man with a single passion, photographing snowflakes; the town drunk, Toothy Bill, has the soul of a poet; the proprietor of the local shop fondles an imaginary pet — Snowflake, her deceased and beloved cat. And we also meet Lady Fergus, a delusional elderly woman who believes she’s an aristocrat and has persuaded the local banker to serve as her butler.

The day is the winter solstice, and the tone of Winter in Graupel Bay nostalgic and tinged with melancholy. There’s a touch of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, or such pastiche, multi-voice pieces as Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood and Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology. Polly grieves for the lengthening nights and shortening days; later, we learn that it’s possible to celebrate darkness.

With each of the five Buntport actors playing more than one role, the action flows easily from space to space. Some of the characters are more convincing than others. Erin Rollman is charming as the precocious Polly; her shop proprietor and befuddled Lady Fergus are funny but less grounded. You feel for Hannah Duggan’s lovestruck Peg Muford and Brian Colonna’s sad-sack Andrew Fromer. Erik Edborg’s Toothy Bill, with his kick-stamp walk and wolfish grin, is quite wonderful — as is the enigmatic persona Edborg presents at the play’s end, despite the fact that I never figured out who he was supposed to be or what he represented. Something to do with the moon, I think.

Erin Rollman (left) and Hannah Duggan weather Winter in Graupel Bay.
Erin Rollman (left) and Hannah Duggan weather Winter in Graupel Bay.

Winter at Graupel Bay contains so many of the elements I love about Buntport — the humor, intelligence and originality; the ingenious use of space; the lively, expressive music and appealing performances — that I hate to say it doesn’t quite work. But alas, it doesn’t. While the production is pleasant to watch and often humorous, it’s neither consistently comic nor consistently evocative. A lot of the dialogue is literate and interesting, but other parts are flat. The character of Bruce Bentley, for example, is clearly based on nineteenth-century naturalist Wilson Bentley. According to Kay Redfield Jamison’s wonderful book, Exuberance, Bentley brought such passion to the photographing of snowflakes that he mourned for years over one crystal, broken while being transferred to a slide. Evan Weissman renders Bentley’s quiet depth perfectly. But the script calls for Bentley, frustrated by a dry spell, to simulate a snowstorm with flour, creating a model of the town and deploying a large sifter. The result is clever, but the entire concept struck me as too self-consciously whimsical. As did the ever-present dead cat, although Rollman’s mime as she stroked and cuddled it, and at one point tried to avoid being scratched, was very amusing.

Like all of Buntport’s plays, Winter in Graupel Bay was developed entirely by the seven-person company. (In addition to the on-stage actors, Matt Petraglia and SamAnTha Schmitz contribute their creativity and expertise.) What they’ve created here is charming and soulful, but it needs more work and a stronger, clearer contour.

 
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