A Ritual for Returning

Familial dysfunction has a way of popping up over the holidays, often turning what should be the most festive time of year into a discomforting revisitation of longstanding issues. But fear not, local playwright Coleen Hubbard has been through this morass, and has a comedic but direct approach that holds out the hope of resolution for the rest of us.

Under the direction of Jeremy Cole, Hubbard's A Ritual for Returning, now being produced by the Backstage Theatre in Breckenridge, comes alive as a bright, brisk dreamscape on wheels. Kendra, a young, harried mother of two, appears on a bicycle, peddling as fast as she can, away from her understanding husband and precocious kids, back through the pastoral countryside of her childhood, toward the family farm.

Photo of Brandon Hoskins as Bad News and Rebecca Turner as Kendra
Brandon Hoskins as Bad News
and Rebecca Turner as Kendra
On the journey, she runs into the very forces from which she is seeking to escape: her father, the dry, practical Ty, and her ever-present nagging subconscious, personified by a slithering, shifty character named Bad News, who delivers just that.

Ty, we learn, grew up worrying about his alcoholic father, and thus became well-acquainted with Bad News. He passed along this personal demon to Kendra, as she fretted over his heart condition. "Is he alive?" she would wonder, as she watched her father nap. Only when his chest would finally rise would she temporarily stop worrying and let go of her premature caretaker's role.

But Ty doesn't die, he leaves home and remarries, leaving Kendra with abandonment issues as well. Now Bad News has her waiting for the other shoe to drop. "Will I be attacked in my house or car? Will my kids get sick? Why can't I make a decent wage? What about my marriage?"

In-between visitations from these pivotal figures, Kendra converses with two old friends—the platinum blonde, archetypal Mary Kay client, Taryn, and the knitting-obsessed matron, Glory—and is interrupted by cell-phone conversations with Greg, her maddeningly mellow husband, and visitations from an ethereal, fortune-telling belly dancer, Sweet and Low.

Rebecca Turner's Kendra is animated and hyper-metabolic, bouncing between all these persuasive influences, like a ping-pong ball, as she trippingly skips her way through Hubbard's astounding, heavily-descriptive, stream-of-consciousness imagery that colors the central arcade of this mental carnival. While Turner's body language at times seems overly rehearsed, her acrobatic charm carries the day, even against the likes of Bad News.

Brandon Hoskins is mesmerizing as Bad News—elastic gyrations and gothic dress evoking the serpent in the garden, replete with elocutionary gear-shifts as smooth as the silver-tongued devil himself—seductively commanding and cajoling Kendra to bend to his will, preying on her fears and desires by reminding her that anything she imagines can happen. And imagine she does.

The sheer outrageousness of Murphy Funkouser's big-haired, roller-skating, Jersey-dialected Taryn chanting, "I am calm, I am centered, I am focused," sends the audience into hysterics, but we ache for this Divine send-up when she's forced to choose between her make-up and getting directions home.

Choosing to emphasize the comedic, rather than tragic, aspects of Hubbard's script, director Cole sets a brisk pace for the rest of the mixed-skills ensemble, as they slide in and out of Kendra's mind on a bicycle, tricycle, mountain bike, skateboard, monocycle, roller-skates, scooter, wagon, and bicycle-built-for-two. The playful sound effects, colorful set, and evocative costumes echo the light tone of the action, making this artful exorcism go down like eggnog—a worthy après-ski venture.

The Backstage Theatre's production of Coleen Hubbard's A Ritual for Returning, directed by Jeremy Cole, runs through January 17, 2004, at the Breckenridge Theatre. 970-453-0199.

Bob Bows


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