I took the family to see BOUNDLESS last night, a new musical written by Mary Fishburne and Directed by Thomas Keating.
Five years in the making, against impossible odds, my friend (well I’m more of an admirer) Mary knocks it out of the park. Her music is tuneful and heartfelt and fits the voices beautifully. The Libretto is funny and mindful, honoring the human experience of grief and mining the complexity of forgiveness.
To think, she began this beautiful work of art with a small colonel of curiosity and developed into a magnificent vehicle. I say “vehicle” because Boundless does something most artist don’t dare: it asks what we can do about the obscene gun addiction in this country, which is really a health crisis emergency, because of the pathology behind it. But Mary doesn’t guilt the gun owner, the low hanging fruit. She attacks the inaction of those who should be doing something about it. But the piece is not a political ad.
And who would have the gall to write a musical about the Amish people and a mass shooting that almost upended their peaceful community? Mary did that, and in a way that is not pandering to either side of the issue. As she said in the talk back, after the performance, “the last thing I want to do is offend anyone.”
Of course, the artist must be willing to challenge us or the work has no meaning. She succeeds in diving into the deep water of mourning and forgiveness, without preaching or giving into cynicism. She and her large, energetic cast walk this fine line with impeccable taste, humor and sensitivity.
Avery Carhart as Sophie Robinson, the daughter of the shooter, turned anti-gun advocate, is convincing and powerful. She befriends Willa King, the sister of one of the shooter’s victims, who is on the fence about her faith and the seemingly easy way her Amish brothers and sisters are able to forgive a mass murderer but cannot forgive the shunned, those who have left the Amish order. Willa is played with much passion and range by Sarah Rhoton.
The role of Albert, who pines annoyingly for Mary King, is masterfully played by an incredibly gifted young singer (in the sixth grade!), Blake Allen.
Other standouts are Zoe Taylor, as Sarah King, a dry witted book nerd, who alternately quotes from “Little Women” and Joan Rivers’, “Diary of a Mad Diva,” delivers her dry assessment, dropping her golden nuggets just at the right moment. Accused of turning her books into false idols, she responds, “I just like them.” Her song about books is very tender and made me want to disappear into my studio with a big pile of books and a “do not disturb” sign on the door.
My daughter Mary really related to the “English” teens, who view the world primarily as a place to get more views and likes. The clash of cultures is great fodder for the author. My favorite joke is when the Amish girl asks the English girl, “what are ‘likes?’” Her answer: “it’s how we measure self-esteem.”
The play is masterfully directed by Thomas KEATING, whose passion for workshopping and exploring meaning as the primary purpose of theatre, beautifully exploits the riches embedded in the writing. The perfect choice in bringing this musical to life in what I truly hope is a long life of evolving, until it finally reaches Broadway, a long hard road in the mythical world of NYC, where great ideas go to re$t.
Boundless is really intended, as a love letter, to and for youth audiences. The message is nuanced, salient and very moving, for audiences of any age. So go, be part of this nascent, communal experience and bring the nearest teen to see this amazing piece of live theatre. Thank you, Mary, Thomas and the entire ensemble for fighting the good fight!
See it now through February 26th at Flowertown Players:
Set Design by Thomas Keating Lighting Design by Nicole Franklin Campbell. Carpentry and Technical Direction by Jason Olsen.