Friday, March 27, 2015

Olympia Family Theater’s ‘Our Only May Amelia’

Cast of Our Only May Amelia. Photo by David Nowitz

Our Only May Amelia at Olympia Family Theater is adapted from the Newberry Award winning novel by Jennifer L. Holm. It is a pioneer story in the vein of Little House on the Prairie and the works of Willa Cather, set in Southwestern Washington and told in a series of episodic scenes.
Thirteen-year-old May Amelia Jackson (Kate Hayes) is the only girl in the Jackson family. They’re living a hardscrabble life on a small farm in the Naselle River Valley. Her mother, Alma (Samantha Chandler) is pregnant when the show opens. Her father, Jalmer (Keith Eisner) is overwhelmed by the demands of running the farm and is overly hard on his family, especially his daughter. Her brother Matti (Jeremy Holien) wants to escape to Astoria and marry his love, Mary O’Casey (Stephanie Kroschel), but fears he’ll have to run away to do so because Pappa hates everyone Irish. The other brother, Wilbert (Adam Peters), is a dreamer with a poetic soul.
Kate Hayes as May Amelia. Photo by Dinea Dephoto
May Amelia’s brothers tease her unmercifully, her father treats her far too harshly, her grandmother Patience (Diana Purvine) shows up and it soon becomes clear that she hates her venomously and for no apparent reason. It seems her only allies are her mother, who is sick and pregnant and has a hard time caring for her, and her Aunt Alice (Debbie Sampson) who lives in Astoria. This is not a happy life they live.
Harsh and unrelenting tragedy follows harsh and unrelenting tragedy in this gritty story, but familial love triumphs in the end— and I say “love triumphs” with reservations, because life was tough on the frontier and there is no grand exaltation in this story. It is a sad and touching story beautifully acted by the entire cast.
It may be the toughest role I’ve ever seen Eisner play, and it is definitely the best acting I’ve seen from Purvine, who, much to her credit, makes the audience despise grandmother Patience. Both Peters and Holien are likeable and convincing as the brothers who alternately tease and support their sister. The other women in the cast, Sampson, Chandler and Kroschel have smaller roles but play them well.
Hayes is simply amazing as May Amelia. What a treat it is to see a promising child actor begin to mature into an accomplished adult actor—she and the equally amazing Clarke Hallum as May Amelia’s cousin Kaarlo fit their respective roles as if they were written with them in mind. Both already made their marks in impressive performances as younger children and prove here that they can play more grownup roles (young teens in this show, but teens who forced to grow up in a hurry). In 2010 when he was 11 years old, Hallum was outstanding in the leading role as Ralphie in A Christmas Story at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. He was last seen in Olympia, if my memory is correct, in The Full Monty at Capital Playhouse. Hayes was a knockout in The Secret Garden in 2011, also with Hallum, and was great in her cross-gender performance as the Artful Dodger in Oliver in 2014. In this show both Hayes and Hellum tug on heartstrings. Both are utterly believable as teenagers trying to survive an almost primitive life in the Pacific Northwest wilderness at the beginning of the 20th century.
Also deserving special recognition are set designer Jill Carter, prop artists Jan Rocks and Wendy Eisler, and costumer Becky Scott.
Some of the material is heavy and may not be suitable for young children.
Our Only May Amelia runs Thurs.-Fri., 7 p.m., Sat.-Sun. at 2 p.m. through April 5. Olympia Family Theater, 612 4th Ave E, Olympia, 360-570-1638

1 comment:

Amanda S. said...

I concur! Best work from Diana Purvine, and so wonderful to see Kate Hayes maturing into roles with more depth. Good job to all!