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Lanford Wilson’s ‘Redwood Curtain’ comes home to the Purple Rose Theatre

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Redwood Curtain at Purple Rose Theatre

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The late great American playwright Lanford Wilson has a connection with the Purple Rose Theatre Company that began back in the late '70s and carries forward today, almost three years after his death.

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In the program notes for “Redwood Curtain,” PRTC Artistic Director Guy Sanville describes how his first encounter with Wilson's "Hot l Baltimore" changed his entire approach to theatre. Sanville also made it to New York in time to catch a young Jeff Daniels starring in the 1978 Broadway production of Wilson's "Fifth of July." In 1993, Daniels reunited with Wilson to appear in "Redwood Curtain." And after Daniels founded his Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, Sanville worked with Wilson to stage his final two plays, "Book of Days" and "Rain Dance."

So it is somehow fitting, and in every way gratifying, that this production of "Redwood Curtain" comes to PRTC 20 years after its founder appeared in the Broadway show.

It is hard to describe this play without using the word "magical" – not only because it’s an enchanting story, but because the main character, Geri, is a young piano prodigy who does in fact have supernatural gifts. She can not only pull something mystical out of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies, but can conjure the wind and the sun to do her bidding. Wilson wastes no time in explaining these gifts nor expounding on Vietnamese geomancy. Instead, the dialog skims the surface of his plot like a smooth stone on a calm lake, and the audience is trusted to plumb its depths. These depths include the whole saga of betrayed Vietnam War vets and their abandoned children, the complex notion of transgenerational connectedness, and the fundamental need for emotional healing.

We quickly learn that young Geri hears the spirits of her ancestors telling her to follow the path of her father. But all this adopted girl knows is that her father was an American GI who met a Vietnamese girl who worked in a Saigon flower shop; their infant daughter (Geri) was immediately adopted out to the wealthy couple who raised her in a California neighborhood. Now a teenager, Geri is staying with the sister of her late adopted father near Arcata, California in a home bordering the Redwood forest. Geri believes the key to finding her “real” father lies behind the Redwood Curtain – where shell-shocked, homeless Vietnam War vets have gone to drop out of society.

Geri is played by Rainbow Dickerson, who first appeared at PRTC in 2012’s “White Buffalo” with both co-stars of this production. Dickerson gives us a Geri who is confident, unsentimental, and a bit fed up with being “special.” She is ready to abandon her music career and follow whatever path her destiny leads to... but is convinced that a particular nameless vet holds the key.

PRTC favorite and Resident Artist Michelle Mountain plays Aunt Geneva, a woman who appreciates Geri’s many gifts and is torn between helping her and keeping her safe.

Resident Artist Alex Leydenfrost plays Lyman, the gruff Vietnam vet Geri tracks down and whose broken memory she seeks to restore.

This compelling production of “Redwood Curtain” is directed by Stephanie Buck, who recently appeared in PRTC’s “The Vast Difference.” The phenomenal set is designed by Vincent Mountain and lit by Noele Stolmack. Gina’s magic becomes audible courtesy of sound design by Tom Whalen and ranges from fluty wind songs to echos of Gina's piano performances. Stage properties are by Danna Segrest, costumes are by Christianne Myers, and the show is stage managed by Angie Kane Ferrante.

“Redwood Curtain” runs through March 15, 2014 at The Purple Rose Theatre Company. Regular performances for the duration of the run are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Purple Rose Theatre Company Box Office at (734) 433-7673 or online. All performances will be held at The Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park Street in Chelsea.

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