The New Colony’s mystical mountain play has its charms, but isn’t quite magical enough to feel real.
Elliot is trapped by snow in a modest resort at the beginning of his months-long pilgrimage to scatter his late father’s ashes at the end of the Appalachian Trail. Driven to complete the trip his father so desperately wanted to take, he sees his night at the 100 Mile Resort as nothing more than a roadblock to the finish line. But mystical resort matron Trudy and her lovelorn sister Nyada know more about Elliot than he realizes. In a tale that’s one part standard-procedure coming-of-age story and one part mystical folklore, Elliot is forced to reconcile his own perceptions of the past with a part of his father’s life he’d never known existed.
Chelsea Marcantel’s script is strongest when Trudy (an endearing Deanna Reed-Foster) waxes poetic from her storybook altar, invoking any number of cultural origin stories which personify the sun, mountains, trees, etc. There’s a beautiful simplicity to the language in these sections that makes them feel better suited to stand-alone performance pieces, or as material for a short story. But the remaining elements—mostly the whole standard-procedure coming-of-age part—fall flat in a tangle of overused tropes and plot devices that end up spelling out the play’s sentimental moral nearly word for word. Combined with conveniently timed moments of magical realism (the mountain won’t let Elliot leave the resort until he is “ready”), the play’s action is at once predictable and confusing.
Still, Even Longer is the sort of fare that’s enjoyable when handled well. Here though, Thrisa Hodits’s direction can’t seem to differentiate the play’s more intimate moments from the big reveals or the laughs (though Omer Abbas Salem brings a pointed and engaging wit to Elliot’s best friend Roy; he’s the strongest performer by far). The pacing is off; rather than climbing to an emotional peak, Elliot’s trajectory flatlines in a hurried sequence of vague scene work that can’t reach its intended payoff.
Despite the production’s flaws, however, we’re effectively immersed in the world of Marcantel’s pilgrimage play thanks to the work of set designer Ashley Woods, and it’s a comfortable and charming one. The Den Theatre’s upstairs main stage is transformed into the 100 Mile Resort, in which audience members are invited to sit among the resort guests as the story unfolds. The space is rustic with a mystic air suggestive of a little magic lingering in the mountains of Appalachia. Unfortunately, the magical part of Even Longer and Farther Away’s magical realism only kicks in a few times, leading us down a lackluster and predictable path of surface-level self discovery.
The New Colony at the Den Theatre. By Chelsea Marcantel. Directed by Thrisa Hodits. With Patriac Coakley, Joe Lino, Amanda Raquel Martinez, Morgan McNaught, Deanna Reed-Foster, Omer Abbas Salem. Running time: 1hr 45mins; one intermission.