Theater review

"Cathy's CreekOn stage Fridays and Saturdays, June 15-16, 22-23, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, June 17, 2 p.m., at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, Langley. Tickets: $12/$10/$8; matinee $8 all seats; call 221-8268. South Whidbey Kiwanis will hold their famous barbecue prior to Saturday night's show at 5 p.m. outside the theater. The only theater that is more difficult to do than community theater is community musical theater.Last Friday, Cathy's Creek, a musical written by Elise Forier, scored by Tina Lear and directed by Amy Windecker, premiered at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. The show was pure South Whidbey, from its writing and directing team to its actors. Even the set, made with real pasture sod and a water-filled creek, is literally rooted on South Whidbey.Set in Trawling, Iowa, the plot centers around a hog and chicken processing plant and a girl, Cathy, who is convinced the poison runoff from the factory farm killed her brother and is slowly killing everyone else in the town. Though this does not seem like subject matter about which someone could sing at length, the show's environmental activist theme works fairly well when set to music. Cathy, played by Amy Walker, is a bit of a strange duck, dumped in the middle of a life that has taken a left turn in small-town America straight for the land of Bizarre. Walker's character regularly speaks to her dead brother Mike - played by a caring and gentle Logan McInerney - and Joan of Arc, who has somehow sprung to life from Cathy's student project. Mike convinces his sister to tell the town the processing plant is poisoning the groundwater, while Joan of Arc, played by Karla Gilbert, builds Cathy up as her own personal savior. Meanwhile, Cathy's widowed mother Myrna (Mary McLeod) is making plans to marry the farm owner, Jack DeCastro (Tom Fisher).Early in the show, all this seems a bit of a stretch. The environmental theme is almost too obvious and the Joan of Arc connection is tenuous. But that was when good songwriting kicked in. Lear has written some real gems for this show, chief among them the show's second tune All You Got is You. Sung by a boisterous Fisher, who is accompanied by Gaea VanBreda in the role of a squawking chicken, the song gives the audience permission to laugh, loosen up, and suspend its disbelief.Outside of the opening number, the singing in the show is solid. Walker, a veteran of last year's high school production of Babes in Arms, has a clear, strong voice that carries the show. Most affecting is the song One Girl, which Walker sings with Gilbert. The lyrics add a second theme and some much-needed subtlety to the show's overall moral play by giving it a girl power sideplot. The courage Cathy must show to fight big agribusiness and to stand up to her mother, her strange, psychoanalyzing teacher (Deana Duncan) and her mother's prospective husband is inspiring, especially for young girls looking for a fictional role model.A second sub-theme has Cathy falling in love with Jason, a brainy boy at her school. Elliot Cole, the show's only off-island actor, does an excellent job of working high school awkwardness into his character. His role helps bring the rest of the town into the plot because Jason's father is dying of a mysterious disease similar to that which killed Cathy's brother.All the actors, who are accompanied live by Lear and drummer David Brogan, do an excellent job of pulling the audience into the show. On opening night, when Cathy finally stopped her mother from marrying DeCastro and turned the whole town against the processing plant, the audience came to its feet to applaud. There were even a few teary eyes in the house.It all makes the difficulty of writing a good community theater musical seem easy. Cathy's Creek is an entertaining show that makes audiences think, laugh, and cry. "

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