REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams


A Play by Eric Schmiedlsignal ensemble

Adapted from the novel by Kent Haruf

Directed by Bries Vannon

At Signal Ensemble Theatre, Chicago

Sprawling small town epic pays homage to Our Town

Signal Ensemble Theatre has mounted the Chicago premiere of Plainsong adapted for the stage by Eric Schmiedl from Kent Haruf’s novel. Director Bries Vannon has cast 18 players, many of which play multiple roles. In order to span the scope of the novel for the stage, Vannon uses story theatre techniques that find cast members introducing and narrations each scene. That can be tedious upon hearing so many voices from all around the in-the-round set. But Plainsong plays as a slice of rural life drama that nimbly give a glimpse of the folks around Holt, Colorado in contemporary times.

signal ensemble

The characters act out the struggles of these small town folks as their discontent with the boredom and isolation of rural plains life renders them restless souls. High school teacher Tom Guthrie (Joseph Stearns) must raise tow boys alone since his wife leaves him after suffering depression. Guthrie also has conflicts with an unruly student, Russell Beckman (Rudy Galvan) without much help from his principal.

signal ensemble

We also see how the two boys, Ike Guthrie (Cale Manning) and Bobbie Guthrie (Jack Edwards) cope with the loss of their mother by helping a lonely old lady.

Teacher Maggie Jones (Katie Worthington) has her eye on Tom Guthrie while helping a pregnant student Victoria (Elizabeth Stenholt) by getting two middle aged bachelor brothers to take the girl in to live on their diary farm. Harold McPherson (Vincent Lonergan) and Raymond McPherson (Jon Steinhagen) are the down-home kind souls who awkwardly yet kindly help Victoria with her flight.

signal ensemble

Plainsong is one of those wonderful, honest and realistic plays that gives us glimpses into the heart of the rural modern American experience. We experience the nice and the nasty folks; we cheer for some and hiss at others. But we see us in most of these flawed but human folks. Their little journeys take together make up the essence of life in the Western plains.

The play covers much and the scene changes are smooth on the interesting rural-evoked set by Buck Blue. The acting is fine, especially by the always reliable Joesph Stearns with cute performances by the two youngsters Cale Manning and Jack Edwards. Katie Worthington, Elizabeth Stenholt and Barbara Roeder Harris did terrific work while Vincent Longergan and Jon Steinhagen were precious as the two shy bachelors.

Plainsong is worth your time; it is a fine glimpse into the struggles of rural American life with a wink to Our Town.


Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: February 8, 2014

For more info checkout the Plainsong page at

At Signal Ensemble Theatre,  1802 W. Bernice, Chicago, IL, call773-698-7389. tickets $20, $15 industry. seniors, students, Thursday thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission, through March 8, 2014

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