By Ellis Koch
Bayou Bart is a short, 30 minute play that attempts to cram as many interesting characters into its short duration as it can but ultimately suffers from “so much to do, so little time”. As a play it has some really intriguing concepts and characters but either deserves a longer running time or a hefty trimming of the fat – as it stands, however, the play is way too busy for its length and what you have instead is a collection of vague ideas that suffer from a lack of depth and have been done elsewhere but better. It is not a bad production but . . . it’s just not enough. It’s like a darker, thinner and very distant relation to Alice in Wonderland with an environmental bent. That’s almost high praise from me as I adore the Alice stories and it should indicate that I really think the play has some legs to it, somewhere, if only the concepts within could be more fully realised. Sadly though, with the script in its current condition, all of the characters – and the actors themselves – seem rushed. Aside from the script the other big letdown are some of the actors who don’t quite have the chops to pull off the sort of engaging characterisation that a play about anthropomorphic animals needs. Accents are a little weak all across the board and some of the actor’s deliveries are wooden. I do understand, however, that quite a few of these actors are very much right at the beginnings of their careers and education as performers. Of the actors there are a few standouts – namely Lucy Payne and Daniel Hillman, who carry the performances and the show well. Hillman in particular is delightfully animated with regard to both of his characters and is “always on”, to use some performance vernacular, while Payne has an excellent storyteller delivery. Hillman’s use of his mask is a curiosity, though, as he often has it off to the side while speaking – whilst this allows for facial expression and clarity of delivery that is missing from the others it is also inconsistent with everybody else. I liked his work, it was great in fact, and his use of the mask to sniff the ground and other such actions was creative but I would prefer consistency. Considering many of the deliveries from other actors seemed somewhat muffled by the masks I am inclined to think that Hillman’s technique was, while a little “cheaty”, appropriate. Also worth mentioning is the great physical work of Bailey Griffiths – there is future leading man material in Griffiths, the way he carries himself about the stage, though some of his delivery felt, on occasion, a little forced. I warmed up to him quickly, though, and I think he has some good foundations to grow from as a performer.
The production’s strongest points are technical ones – it has some killer costumes, in particular that of Charles the alligator, excellent makeup and its masks are also really well made. These elements really gave life to the play and created some very interesting visuals that reminded me a little of Graeme Base’s book “The Eleventh Hour”. Lighting and sound design were adequate though the ambient sounds felt a little too loud. The set was functional but nothing too eye-catching, at least when compared with the masks and costumes.
I think writer/director Kalin Lauer has something interesting in Bayou Bart but I think the piece deserves some more development. I would certainly be interested in seeing an extended version, though I am aware it has been extended before. With regards to direction, Kalin and assistant director Rebecca O’Dowd do their best with the busy script but it ultimately ends in a confusing mess of a finale. For a new work, with new creatives, I think Bayou Bart has something going for it and I’d like to see Lauer work on it further and will keep an eye out for more works from them in the future.