“Bad things don’t happen here.”
That’s the mantra uttered often by the residents of Bellwether, a suburban community where happy families brag about how friendly, good and safe everybody is.
Then a neighbor’s child vanishes, and all hell breaks loose.
In Bellwether, a supernaturally tinged world premiere by Steve Yockey, the kidnapping of a little girl sets in motion a series of events that’s part Crucible, part Orpheus, with splashes of The Pied Piper and a sprinkle of Nightmare on Elm Street. When Jackie and Alan Draft (Arwen Anderson and Gabriel Marin) discover their six-year-old daughter missing, they first blame each other’s inattention. Then, after the neighborhood begins spreading rumors about the Drafts, Bellwether’s other children suddenly vanish as well, and the town’s suspicions escalate into an all-out witch hunt.
Bellwether is a polarizing piece of work, dividing audiences between those who will appreciate MTC for attempting so odd and unsettling a piece of work—a contemporary fractured fairy tale—and those who feel that, for all its good intentions and creative risks, Bellwether is just a little too inconsistent and uneven to recommend.
I’m in the middle.
The script by Yockey is in serious need of a rewrite. Yockey has a nice way with dialogue, both capturing and satirizing the banality of modern adult conversation. But his attempts at fusing everyday action with mythological fantasy put strain on the script that results in a kind of retroactive collapse; after the climax, it becomes clear that much of what preceded it doesn’t quite add up. Though fascinating at times, and occasionally surprising, the end is unsatisfying, with a few too many loose ends.
The direction by Ryan Rilette (who showed a strong command of such mythic-concrete elements with last year’s towering In the Red and Brown Water) is part of the problem. He frequently allows the actors to make scores of baffling choices that undermine the believability of the show: characters tell people to calm down when none of them have yet lost their calm; they do not hear someone yelling their heads off in the upstairs bedroom, and later they easily hear someone talking downstairs in a hushed speaking voice. These are little things, but they soon make it hard to believe anything that is going on.
Still, it’s impossible to completely discount Bellwether. Yockey explores some very interesting ideas, and MTC’s production contains one eye-popping second-act surprise that makes the show seem better than it is. In the end, Bellwether just doesn’t ring true.
‘Bellwether’ runs Tuesday–Sunday through Oct. 30 at the Marin Theatre Company. 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Showtimes vary. $34–$55. 415.388.5208.