Some great Scots and patient locals make for a good play at Columbia Festival

June 24, 1993|By TaNoah V. Sterling | TaNoah V. Sterling,Staff Writer

From its theme to the actors and Columbia volunteers, "The Homecoming Project" is all about community.

The play, opening tonight for the final weekend of the Columbia Festival of the Arts, is set in 19th-century and modern-day Scotland.

It centers around an area in the Highlands where failing agriculture and landowners' high debts are forcing sharecroppers or "crofters" off the land to be replaced by grazing sheep because of the demand for wool in the new industrial economy.

A similar situation confronts the area a century later when a fictional developer from New York wants to market the region for tourism.

About 20 Columbia residents have parts in the play as fishermen, construction workers, beggars and even a hillside.

The professional actors -- all native Scots -- praise their efforts and involvement in the theatrical piece.

"They've been incredibly disciplined about sitting still for painfully long periods of time," said actor Andrew Wardlaw.

"Everyone has the same commitment to the play," added actress Flloyd Kennedy.

One Columbia resident who had much influence was construction consultant John Mardall. Along with performing a small part as a construction worker, he helped provide an altered perspective on one of the play's main characters.

"He was influential in molding the character of Rick the developer," said writer-director Shauna Kanten. "In rehearsal, Rick became more and more sleazy. He's more of a visionary now, he's not a bad guy."

Ms. Kanten said she hopes to spark discussion in Columbia on the issue of land development.

"The play comes out of the idea that what our world needs is community," she said. "Not planned community, but a community that grows out of human beings respecting each other.

"In other words, if New York had real community, there would be shelters for the homeless on every corner."

Ms. Kanten said that when she was writing the play two years ago she knew that it would be performed in this planned city, but she said that the play does not support or condemn either side of the issue.

"It's up to each individual who sees the play to take in the play and digest it," she said.

One of the most striking scenes in the play is one that includes Columbia residents.

"We have a scene where the community plays beggars, and it's a very powerful scene because you have to shut out the people as they're coming up to you asking for money," said actress Deborah Greene, a New York resident.

In the scene, the actors chant lines such as "I only see to suit my purpose" and "It'll never happen to me" above slow eerie music that combines electric guitar, violin and the base drum, three of the 50 instruments used in the play.

"We've really collaborated well, and it's fun because we have different words to describe different things," said Ms. Greene.

"Everyone has taken the time to mesh."

The play will include a performance of a ceilidh -- pronounced Kay-lee -- which is a Scottish country dance described by Wardlaw as "very simple but very fun."

Ticket-holders for the nearly sold-out Saturday performance will be invited to dance a real ceilidh with the actors after the play.

The actors say that working in Columbia has been a good experience, and their cultural differences were some of the things they enjoyed most.

"It's just amazing. I'm having a ball," Mrs. Kennedy said. "It's really hard work and it's challenging. I really love that. It's complex and it's interesting working with people from different backgrounds and culture."

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