Theater review: Wilma premieres 'Cherokee'

Ashley Everage and Kevin Jackson play the newly married couple on a camping trip with an older couple in "Cherokee," whose plot keeps veering.
Ashley Everage and Kevin Jackson play the newly married couple on a camping trip with an older couple in "Cherokee," whose plot keeps veering. (ALEXANDER IZILIAEV)
Posted: January 18, 2014

Lisa D'Amour's Cherokee is receiving its world premiere at the Wilma, and under Anne Kauffman's direction, it's an impressive production: a terrific cast and an eye-popping set (designed by Mimi Lien).

But this new script, D'Amour's first play after her big hit Detroit, still needs work. It is crammed with awkward exposition about the five characters' backgrounds and seems to lose its sense of humor without warning.

Like Detroit, this play involves two couples, one young, one middle-aged: John (David Ingram) and his wife (Marcia Saunders) are trying to escape their run of bad luck: He has been fired from his job as vice president of an oil company and is recovering from prostate cancer. The younger couple (Ashley Everage and Kevin Jackson) are newly married and hoping to start a family.

Cherokee takes up some of the same issues as that 2011 play: unemployment, credit-card debt, drugs, big-box stores, friendship, and community. There is much talk in both plays about making food.

But Cherokee wants to be three different plays at once, and keeps veering from one to the other.

The first play is about quirky people on a jokey camping trip in the Smoky Mountains, with all the usual sitcom stuff involving putting up tents and fearing bugs and taking photos of sunsets.

The second is a metatheatrical play, where the hokey Indian pageant at the nearby casino merges with the reality of the campers. Josh (Kalani Queypo), a real Cherokee, shows up at the campsite, and people start making speeches about being "in the moment," both as a way of living and a way of acting. All the forest is a stage. ...

The third play is a new-age transformational back-to-nature, full-body halo sermon, where all irony flies out the window and people get in touch with their inner Cherokee.

There are surprise plot twists that would be wrong to reveal, although you can see every one of them coming a mile away.

How much you enjoy this show will depend on your tolerance for any one of these three; it will also depend on your tolerance for veering. Mine is low, but don't let me decide for you: Listen to your ancestral voice.


Cherokee

Wilma Theater, Broad & Spruce Sts. Through Feb. 8. Tickets: $35-$66. Information: 215-546-7824 or wilmatheater.org.

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