When I first saw the flies swarming over the stage lights of Theatre 80, I was excited by the director’s bold scenic verisimilitude. Unfortunately, I soon learned that the insects were not part of the show, but rather the theater was infested with them. Fortunately, the soulful performances of the Yale University company and violin ensemble form a magnetic force that captures the essence of the dreamy, desolate and devastating abyss of Dust Bowl life. The play features a prophet who attempts to lure two sisters, a lonesome man and two brothers (with a queerly close relationship) away from the suffering countryside and into a promised land. The prophet succeeds by finding a desperate outlaw willing to sell his soul and lead the forsaken tribe to a supposed land of gold. The men in the cast embody their somewhat stock characters with bravado, self-awareness and humor; the women have trouble overcoming their less-interesting material, which is short on zeal and long on preciousness and romance. Despite the show's detours into sap, it provides a strong showcase for several of its actors: Paul Hinkes’s irresistible humor, Jamie Bogyo’s commanding stage presence and Nathaniel Janis’s spellbinding authenticity are enough to quench a theatergoer’s creative thirst as he or she trudges through a two-and-a-half hour musical about defeat and ineluctable misfortune.—Sarah Andrew
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