The Jenkins Farm Project: A play so scary, I had to take a breather

Farms give me the creeps. Sure, modern farms populated with lots of apple-cheeked, adorable children singing songs about the heartland are jolly, but old farm houses give me the heebies for some reason. (Farm people to me: "You live in a neighborhood where cops have machine guns." Touché, imaginary farm friends. Touché.) I don't know if it's the idea of isolation that scares me or that every haunted house in popular culture is an old abandoned farm house, but they freak me out. Now imagine a desolate farm where suicidal people used to live, where they bury spoons in the yard to control their adult schizophrenic children and where weird weeds take over the crop land. See? Terrifying! This was the setting at a Striding Lion group performance we went to Friday night. Go ahead, pee in your pants. I'll wait.

If I had written this review back in December when I got the tickets, I would have written some excited stuff about having seen cabaret. However on the night of the original performance there was a mix-up on our part, after which the gracious director at the theater mailed me a new set of Spring tickets. Fate, you are so cruel.

I was skeptical of the title of the new show we agreed to see. "The Jenkins Farm Project". It sounded too safe and I had been looking forward to a saucy night of singing, but Friday night was the night that worked for us so I resigned to a tame evening of local theater. I mean, farms are a little creepy but surely this had some cheery, singing cows or something, right? Oh, no. I was wrong about that. This play was terrifying. No singing cows, lots of psychological terror. I have never cried at a play before. Movies? Who didn't cry at the Sand Lot? But plays are usually a challenge to my suspended disbelief, what with the implied scenery and the fact that I usually see plays with flying monkeys played by 200-pound men suspended from visible rope.

The Jenkins Farm Project is set on an old mule-plowed farm in the south that belonged to Striding Lion artistic director Annie Bessera's family. Six children grew up there and the play explores the isolation of farm life and the horrible personal hell of several mentally ill people who continue to live on the dilapidating grounds.

Disturbing interviews with the real farm residents were playing on screens over head and, unlike a traditional play where the action happens on a stage and the audience is seated from a comfortable distance, The Jenkins Farm Project is interactive. Creepily interactive. While the bizarre interviews flashed overhead, the schizophrenic farm women thrash danced and yelled at God around us. A mentally ill blind man shuffled past in his underwear muttering about shotguns. You know how I feel about guns. They are scary! This play was a vortex of terror swirling around me  - a roux of all of my unfavorite things. It was the opposite of the Sound of Music. It was like if a possessed Julie Andrews bathed in a metal wash tub and sang folk music. I was already getting seriously spooked and it got more intense from there.

The dialog started getting into forced sterilization of the "feeble minded" and explored the sterilization-happy chapter of West Virginia's history - this was a mere five hours after the hubs and I discussed moving to West Virginia. Coincidental. Also, SCARY! Did I also mention my grandparents happen to have a kind of scary farm? And this play was swirling around us instead of happening from the safety of a traditional stage? And that I had had a few glasses of wine after a very rough week?

Good lord, I'm lucky I made it to the bar where a busty young bartender paid a compliment to my earrings and bought Niko a shot of Jameson. We needed some sanity after that psychocoaster. I have to give it to the cast because they made this freak fest come alive. The actor who had played the blind man had a drink with us afterwards. He didn't seem as impressed with his own work as I was. I mean, he nailed it. I'd even say a little too well. SHIT IS SCARY.

I recommend seeing this play at halloween or whenever you need a little theatrical hot sauce in your safe little world, you uppity urban fop. And bring a change of pants.

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Mwahahahah!!! Barefoot and ready to shriek out some dogma!

Filed under: Field Trips

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