Hook and Eye’s production of The Summoners is a truly original piece and has some wonderful new ideas on telling a somewhat convoluted story about an America blanketed in thick apocalyptic clouds.
The play follows the town of Elmyra, Indiana’s residents, who seemingly by chance, witness a break in the cloud cover and see the first sighting of sun in years. The story telling is unconventional, bouncing through scenes and interviews with the residents as if watching a Law and Order episode piece together what happened and why. I struggled to understand what was going on as the piece also bounced through time.
The Hobbs family is the main focus as each member grapples with dealing with the new found fame surrounding their witness of the sun. The Hobbs family, like the rest of Elmyra, is then asked by the government’s representative Joanne Whipplethorpe (Elizabeth London) to recreate, word for word, what they were doing when the sun came out and to do it in front of live television for America to see. Unfortunately, this is where the show got weird for me. In true 1984 fashion, the government then abuses the rights of the residents, parting them from family members and forcing them into continuous re-runs of the same scene in an unmarked government warehouse.
Family dynamic spins out of control as overbearing Mom, Diane Hobbs (Carrie Heitman) gets hysteric. Heitman was given a large dose of rock-bottom desperation to yell and cry about throughout the show, but I really wish I could have seen her happier. In fact, I wish I could have seen some more comedic relief as the show got darker and scarier and, frankly, stranger. There was no intermission, and the scene after scene of flash backs, interviews, and then side stories of what the other residents were going through got exhausting and felt long.
The ensemble work was well done and well cast, featuring a wide range of ages and body types. The costuming was economical – the rest of the world was suggested with only a few costume changes. The use of media in the play was thoughtful and creative as different commercials for Whipplethorpe played throughout. The lighting by Johnathan Cottle was beautiful, I loved the use of small LED lights to create a sense of darkness. The set was made of pieces of shipping crate and made excellent building blocks for creating a sense of movement and environment.
Had the show had a little more focus and been more streamlined, there would be potential for telling this sci-fi tale so that it had more of a poignant message. Some comedic relief and a shorter run time would also improve the experience. Overall, however, The Summoners is a good example of a theatre company taking risks and creating a piece that is wholly original, and therefore, worth seeing.
The Summoners – Devised by Hook & Eye Theatre; Written by Gavin Broady; Directed by Chad Lindsey
WITH: Cynthia Babak (Walt Dufresne, Ensemble), Carrie Meitman (Diane Hobbs, Ensemble), Yasmeen Jawhar (Hannah Hobbs, Ensemble), Emily Kunkel (Cass Hobbs, Ensemble), Elizabeth London (Joanne Whipplethorpe, Ensemble), Christopher McMahon (Riley, Ensemble), Brian Robinson (Clayton Hobbs, Ensemble), and Virginia Venk (Gloria, Ensemble).
Sound Design/Composer Nick Moore; Lighting/ Set Design by Jonathan Cottle; Costume Design by Lisa Renee Jordan; Stage Manager: Hannah Johnson-Walsh. Presented by Hook & Eye Theatre. At The C.O.W theatre, 21 Clinton St., Manhattan; Through Feb. 1st. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. Tickets are $18 and may be purchased at https://www.artful.ly/store/events/2191.