Beyond the Blue Mountains

Adapted from the book by Jane Wilson Joyce

Directed by Kathi E.B. Ellis

A Review by Carlos Manuel

Entire contents copyright © 2012 by Carlos Manuel. All rights reserved.
A scene from Beyond the Blue Mountains
Photo courtesy of Looking for Lilith.

Beyond the Blue Mountains—adapted by Looking for Lilith Theatre Company from the poetry of Jane Wilson Joyce, and under Kathi E.B. Ellis’s direction – is a powerful, moving and creative theatrical piece that presents the “the spirit and endurance of the women who went west with their families – whether they wished to or not.”

This play is an experience no one should miss, mainly because the creativity of the troupe in taking poetry and turning it into “theatre” is a phenomenal achievement. And then there is the incredible acting approach, using movement and experimentation through well-known theatre techniques such as viewpoints, devising, composition and Theatre of the Oppressed, to name a few.

It is clear, at least to me, that the Looking for Lilith members know what they’re doing and take their work seriously. It is also clear that they have spent time shaping, reshaping and refining their craft to the point that it seems easy and flawless. Yet the trained eye can easily see that endless hours of rehearsal and thought process have gone into creating this moving humanistic theatre piece.

As an ensemble work, it would be unfair to single out any member of the company. Yet because the script, although non-conventional, still follows a linear plot, the audience can easily keep up with the story and note the magnificent acting from each actor. Such is the case with Dawn Schulz, who plays Nancy Clay, an energetic and filled-with-wonder 13-year-old girl; or Shannon Woolley Allison’s portrayal of the ever-suffering father, Gabe Clay; or even the clean and matured work of the youngest member of the ensemble, Noah Bunch, who was exceptionally on cue for every movement, every line and every choral recitation. Each and every member of this cast deserves praise and respect because, except for the young male actor, everyone is a female actor portraying husbands, wives, men, women and children in the Boyle County, Kentucky, wagon train – showing an understanding of the body to represent the human being, young and old, and the human condition, good or bad.

The triumph of this production also comes from a director who understands theatricality and has a clear grasp on Jane Wilson Joyce’s poetry, and for the first time in the four years I have seen shows at The Rudyard Kipling, I am excited to say that the set design by Christé Lunsford has meaning, serving a definite purpose other than being a set of platforms to define the acting space. The lights, which have always been used just to define the beginning and the end of a play, are now employed in a manner that helps the piece have dimension, color (without actual color gels) and a certain feeling of isolation and despair. And because the program doesn’t mention a lighting designer, I can only guess the director had a lot to do with the look and mood of such artistry. The costume design by Lindsay Chamberlin, the fight choreography by Lee Look, and the sound and original music by Laura Ellis also deserved to be mentioned because they all achieved their goals.

Yet, like everything in life, not everything is perfect. There were moments when the stories carried themselves almost to the melodramatic side, either because the actresses wanted to bring the pain and agony of those who suffered, or because the director decided to add background music to certain recitations. I do understand music as a leitmotif, but because the words were so sincere and real, the music almost turned such moments from the sentimental to the melodramatic. And as good as the movement was, the directing did not allow such synchronicity to flow from one part to the next, but rather, stopped it to indicate the beginning or the end of a situation. Yet, with these minor flaws, Beyond the Blue Mountains is a theatrical experience I highly recommend to any theatre artist or theatre enthusiast, and to any person who wants to see something artistic, poetic and moving. 

Beyond the Blue Mountains

Feb 23, 24, 25, March 1, 2, 3 at 7:30pm

March 3 at 2:00pm.

For show only reservations,
call 502-638-2559.
For dinner and show reservations,
call 502-636-1311

Looking for Lilith

At The Rudyard Kipling

422 West Oak Street

Louisville, KY 40203