People like to examine their origins via art. Virginia Woolf, Tennessee Williams, The Coen Brothers, and many, many more have all at one point or another created fictional versions of their childhood homes. About writing out her experiences, Woolf once said, “It is only by putting it in to words that I make it whole; this wholeness means that it has lost its power to hurt me.” Perhaps playwright Stephen Bittrich is attempting to do something along these lines in his play, Home of the Great Pecan: that is, turn his hometown, Seguin, Texas, into something else so it can no longer hurt him. However, he doesn’t make Seguin ‘whole’ so much as laughable. The Drilling Company then runs with the silliness of the script to the point of absurdity, making Home of the Great Pecan mildly entertaining at best, disturbing at worst.
The play goes something like this: during preparations for the annual Pecan Festival, the town’s beloved Great Pecan is stolen, which sends everyone in a tizzy. Meanwhile, Tammie Lynn Schneider is determined to get her boyfriend Greeley Green to stop fooling around and marry her, by any means necessary. And all the while, strange lights flash and rumors of flying saucers are whispered left and right.
Design elements of the production are nicely executed: the small stage is adorned with Texan flags and Christmas lights, with panels that spin to create different locations and flexible set pieces used in varying ways. Miriam Nilofa Crowe’s lighting design is impressively versatile. Both she and set designer Jen Varbalow use the materials at their disposal to the fullest. They create a workable, malleable space for the company to play in.
The rest of the work does not quite live up to its surroundings. There’s something that rubs me the wrong way about this production’s tone. Almost everyone in the town of Seguin comes off as a bit unbalanced and laughable. One begins to wonder if Bittrich wrote himself into the play as the young, angry misfit Yankee Chucky Connors, and if Home of the Great Pecan is a kind of adolescent revenge against the town that never made him feel welcome.
But, I have to acknowledge that there are moments when characters exhibit signs of depth, and some relationships hint at complexity. Greeley, while sharing a beer with his best friend Ed, waxes philosophical about the meaning of life and the needs of man. Near the end of the play, we learn that Sonia, the Hispanic owner of the beauty parlor, has a thing for Les, the small-minded hardware store owner. These bits interest me, but are dissapointingly underdeveloped.
Instead, director Hamilton Clancey focuses on comedy. Loud comedy. Bombastic comedy. Often, ineffective comedy. The best example of this is the scene in which we meet Reverend Pat, played by Scott Baker. We are treated to (or made to endure) one of the Reverend’s sermons. He screams and shouts and waves his arms and dances around the stage, sweating and spitting profusely. It’s terrifying and grotesque. And then, one scene later, we have to watch as the still-dripping Reverend attempts to seduce the young Rose – and succeeds! Their kiss is cringe-worthy.
One performance I do enjoy is that of Amanda Dillard, who plays Pricilla Rotweiller, a young hopeful for the Miss Pecan crown. As she’s rehearsing her acceptance speech, she is sugary sweet, but her demeanor drops the second her mother interrupts her: Dillard growls her response. The theft of the Great Pecan hits her hard and leads to a hilarious, righteous breakdown. I only wish someone had pointed out the size of the space to her: her screaming literally hurt my ears at times.
It seems like The Drilling Company wants to produce work that tests the senses, that’s visceral and in your face, while Home of the Great Pecan wants to be something else entirely (a romantic comedy/indie flick, perhaps). Maybe they just aren’t meant to be together. One wonders what would happen if this company got their hands on some Artaud - that could be out of this world.