Leaving an audience so intent that you can hear a pin drop one minute and then hear bursts of laughter ringing out in the next, is true entertainment. That's what happens in North Coast Repertory Theatre's "The Voice of the Prairie."
The story that unravels on the NCRT stage is similar to one of those tall tales we've all heard on the popular "Prairie Home Companion" radio show. To have it unfold right before your eyes is icing on the cake.
When a fast-thinking, fast-talking Leon (James Maddy) cranks up his radio and hopes there's enough power to do his show, he has to be vigilant and entertaining. He knows he's operating his radio station without a license and that his audience needs another voice to hear.
Enter David Quinn (David Myers), a modest farmer trying to forget his painful past and make a simple living. But once Leon hears him tell a story from days gone by, he persuades David to begin a regular radio spot for payment of $1.
While the audience listens to David's story, the scene and actors fade to the time of a homeless old man named Poppy who lived on the street and rode train cars with his son, Davey (Maddy). Their bond is as tight as the cement that holds the Brooklyn Bridge, but it's unable to change the ending of their ominous history.
During one of David's tales, he becomes quite sentimental as he recalls the funny, high-spirited blind girl Frankie (Amanda Sitton) he met after being on his own for a while. The two became a Tarzan and Jane; Davey constantly pulling Frankie from danger, like when she stands on the edge of a cliff above the ocean to feel the breeze. She keeps him mentally invested in their romance and spirit of adventure.
Who says three actors can't play 11 or more characters?
This cast is superb at it, effortlessly taking viewers through the decades of their lives. Meyer ("The Imaginary Invalid") is marvelous in his characters: heartrending as the downtrodden Poppy, cautious of Leon's schemes as David, and glowing in his later life reunion with Frankie.
Maddy pours his acting, dance, stage dialects, and clowning talents into his different characters. Leon's snake-oil salesman antics to get David to work for him never gets old as he works different tactics. As Poppy's vigorous son trying to learn his way while taking care of his father, Davey rides that giant wave quite well. Davey is also genuine when heartbroken at losing the love of his life.
Sitton ("Man From Nebraska") elicits most of the laughs with her chaotic and Little Miss Sunshine demeanor. But she can bring on the empathy just as easy. Playing a blind person isn't easy, but this accomplished actress never once wavers.
Director Lynne Griffin pulled off a great show — no surprise — as the show is very special to her. She and husband Sean Sullivan met on the set of "The Voice of the Prairie" 22 years ago during an Old Globe production. Sullivan wrote the music for this version, and it adds a charming effect and reality to the story.
The design team created just the right touches to take the audience on a train ride, barely escaping danger and true romance.
If you go
- What: 'The Voice of the Prairie'
- When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 2 p.m. some Saturdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through June 20
- Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre,
987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
- Tickets: $30-$47; (858) 481-1055,