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Theatre review: Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter at Pendragon Theater

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Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake has opened their production of Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter. It runs in repertory through the end of August. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

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WELCOME HOME, JENNY SUTTER is a very new play by Julie Marie Myatt.  The initial production was this February at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Pendragon's is only the second.  It tells the story of Jenny Sutter, a wounded U.S.Marine, who has just returned from Iraq.  The play deals with the difficulty of re-integrating into society after experiencing great trauma.  Jenny's experiences with the compassionate oddball outcasts of Slab City set her on the long road to recovery.

Bob Pettee's set is both clever and functional.  A muslin curtain downstage provides a backdrop for the first two scenes, then falls to reveal Slab City, a surrealistic hodge podge of make-shift living spaces.  Colin McKeen's lighting is very good, especially his use of lanterns.  The sound design by Chris Clarke works very well, as do the music choices.  As for Kent Streed's costumes, they look good.  Lou's jumbled mixture of fabrics and styles mirrors her hyper personality, while Cheryl's outfit looks appropriately like a "costume" rather than clothes.

Unfortunately the cast is a bit uneven.  Jason Amrhein comes off as two-dimensional in the role of Hugo.  As Cheryl, Lou's shrink, Ann Marie Halstead does a lot of indicating and never becomes a believable character.  On the other hand Chris Clarke is very good as the anti-social Donald.  We thoroughly believe both his misogyny and his later warmth.

Binnie Ritchie Holum is both funny and touching as Lou, an over-the-top character who has given up just about everything that's fun and is the first to be kind to Jenny.  Although the character is extreme, Miss Holum paints a very real portrait. 

As the title character the British actress Fiona Christie does a fairly good job with the American accent and only slips a couple of times.  Miss Christie is powerfully focused and we see her pain in her eyes.

For me the outstanding performance is Bob Pettee as Buddy, Lou's long-time friend and companion.  They have good chemistry and their scenes together are terrific.  Mr. Pettee's physical characterization is very good and consistent while the grandfather story is lovely. Mr. Pettee shows us the many aspects and depth of this complex character.

Director Anita Montgomery has done a nice job of staging and directing, especially Buddy's sermons.  However there are a couple of things that bother me about the play.  One is the mis-use of language.  For example, one is not a victim "to" addictions.  It should be "of".  I would assume the actor mis-spoke, but the phase is used by another character as well.  Another is that a husband or father is never mentioned, which seems to leave a gap in the character of Jenny.  Finally, 95 minutes is pretty long for no intermission, although I can see it would be difficult to find a place to break the play.

Those quibbles aside, this is an interesting play that deals with a difficult subject.  It's not anti-war and raises the hope that we will all deal with returning troops better than we did after Viet Nam.  Playwright Myatt makes good use of character and humor to make her point.

On a scale of one to five the Pendragon Theatre production of WELCOME HOME, JENNY SUTTER gets four pine trees.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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