Author Amy Timberlake set her award-winning historical novel in 1870s Wisconsin during the great passenger pigeon migration. Back then, the influx of pigeons was followed by the arrival of hunters. Passenger pigeons flocked by the billions making them a commercial target. And then they were hunted to extinction. Using the seedy pigeon business as a backdrop, Timberlake lays her mystery of a discontented small town gal. Agatha (played by Amanda Jane Long) is unhappy with the narrow parameters of her life. She decides to leave her family without explanation. When a body is discovered wearing Agatha’s ball gown, the town mourns her. That is everyone except for her little sister Georgie (played by Ashley Darger).
Scenic and Properties Designer Alan Donahue sets the quaint tone by covering the Lifeline stage with muted prairie grass. The overgrown brush gives an old-fashioned rural feel. It also serves as a natural camouflage of the instruments playing in the background. The sweeping monotone landscape combined with faint original music by John Szymanski gives the story a dreamy state.
Adapter Jessica Wright Buha and Director Elise Kauzlaric use this surreal vibe to heighten the mystery. The contrast is obvious. The horrific murder is out of place in this gentle countryside. ‘How could bad things happen here?‘ and ‘why would someone voluntarily leave her loving family?’ are questions peaking my curiosity.
Flashback scenes revealing Long’s restlessness are scattered throughout the show. One repeated scene has Long happily opening her parasol while beckoning Darger to follow her. The homespun setting tethers us to Darger’s insistence that her sister is alive. We want to believe that too.
Darger delivers a fierce performance. She is very much the precocious kid sister. In the flashback scenes, she fantasizes about her and Agatha growing old as spinsters. Darger can’t fathom Agatha leaving her by running away or by dying. When she sets out to find her sister, Darger won’t even be reasoned with by the charmingly, good-natured Jeff Kurysz (Billy). For their travels, Donahue cleverly has the twosome positioned on different size ladders serving as a horse and a mule. Kurysz gently encourages Darger to stop to rest. Darger refuses and falls asleep in her saddle. When she starts to slide off, Kurysz is there to catch her.
Despite her obstinate and outspoken ways, Darger’s unwavering devotion to her sister makes Kurysz and the audience support her in her cockamamie theories. Her long-winded schemes are hatched with an authentic spontaneity and true earnest. Darger is so engaging I’m feeling all her heart-wrenching emotions. In a final scene and as Darger’s self-proclaimed protector, I’m overly enraged with a character that has wronged her.
Kauzlaric impressively paces this with muted intrigue. The relationship of the sisters is the focal point and the murder is secondary. Instead of trying to solve the mystery of who killed Agatha, we work harder to solve the mystery of why Agatha left home. The story is riveting with unexpected dark moments. It feels like “Little House on the Prairie” meets “Nancy Drew” but for adults.
ONE CAME HOME is another page turner to curl up with at Lifeline. It’s a coming-of-age story where a young girl learns resilience when faced with intentional and unintentional cruelty.
Running Time: Two hours includes an intermission
At Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood
Based on the novel by Amy Timberlake
Adapted by Jessica Wright Buha
Directed by Elise Kauzlaric
Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm
Sundays at 4pm
Thru April 5th
Buy Tickets at www.lifelinetheatre.com
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