The Hatfields and McCoys was the infamous family feud from the 1800s. These families hated each other. Their bitter battle was fueled by moonshine and revenge. The House again brings the epic families’ drama to the stage. When Rose Anna McCoy (played by Haley Bolithon) falls for Johnse Hatfield (played by Kyle Whalen), the couple try to unify the families in peace. Instead, their union ignites the dispute. The saga is a booze-soaked, blood-bath.
The creative team of Shawn Pfautsch (playwright), Matt Hawkins (director), and Katherine Scott (choreographer) tackle the family drama on all sides and with all styles. Right from the start, an attack on Civil War soldiers showcases a personal vendetta as a McCoy is killed by a Hatfield. Right before the slaughter, the soldiers are rhythmically moving in unison. Scott orchestrates a synchronized, slow interpretative dance sequence. And then Hawkins (also fight choreographer) interrupts with fast and furious combat. Into the ongoing clash of beauty-meets-brutal, Pfautsch also layers in some whimsy. The playwright re-imagines parts of the feud more playfully. He pits the families together in a local ‘battle of the bands’ style competition. The families bring their high energy and talents. Although this upbeat contest provides a vehicle for Rose Anna and Johnse to fall in love at first sight, this variety show feel is out of sync with the play’s darker elements. This isn’t just a tale of two families, it’s a tale of two shows. One has high-spirited merriment while the other is cold-blooded hatred. The combination makes for a lengthy, passion-filled multiplex experience.
Pfautsch portrays the heads of the households as religious zealots. Ol Ranl McCoy (played by Anish Jethmalan) has become a fervent pacifist. And Devil Anse Hatfield (played by Robert D. Hardaway) preaches fire and brimstone. Their wives support and defy. A stoic Stacy Stoltz (Sara McCoy) encourages her children in their theatrical pursuits and bullet-making. A hilarious Marika Mashburn (Levicy Hatfield), cradling her shotgun named ‘Justice’, is deadly with the one liners. Although the parents are distinct, the kids are less identifiable. There isn’t much conversation to establish these offspring characters. When we are at the McCoys, they are putting on plays. Over at the Hatfields, a fierce Hardaway is sermonizing. The time at the homes adds length but not substance to the familial story. The theatrics keep us detached from connecting to individuals.
Still, some of the theatrics, I really enjoyed. I loved the drunken antics of Sam McCoy (played by the noteworthy Bradley Grant Smith). And the song (co-composed by Pfautsch and Matt Kahler) and dance illustrating Bad Lias Hatfield’s (played by Jeff Mills) surgery is gory elegance. The hollow appearance of the dead as Mills rises up from the bench is powerfully breathtaking. This is the true essences of the play, the real feud between life and death. The well-rehearsed number is perfection. Some of the other numbers aren’t as finessed.
HATFIELD AND MCCOY is an epic drama. Although The House could have trimmed these family trees, the ambitious show has enduring roots.
Running Time: Three hours and ten minutes includes a delayed start and an intermission
At Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division
Written by Shawn Pfautsch
Directed by Matt Hawkins
Choreography by Katherine Scott
Original music by Shawn Pfautsch and Matt Kahler
Music direction by Matthew Muniz
Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru March 11th
For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit www.thehousetheatre.com or call 773.769.3832.
Production photos by Michael Brosilow
For more information and reviews on Chicago theatre, visit Theater in Chicago.