Entertainment » Theatre

Heritage Hill Naturals

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday May 15, 2018
Alex Casillas, Emily Elmore, and Laura Baronet Chowenhill in 'Heritage Hill Naturals'
Alex Casillas, Emily Elmore, and Laura Baronet Chowenhill in 'Heritage Hill Naturals'  (Source:Paul Fox)

Francisca Da Silveira's new play "Heritage Hill Naturals" looks at what happens when a young, anxiety-prone person attempts to escape into a break from life's stresses with a stint of volunteer work at a farm, becoming a sort of agri-tourist whose passage through the lives of career farm workers has unsettling effects for all involved.

At first, Lucy's (Alex Casillas) month-long tenure at Heritage Hill Naturals seems like it's going to be fun, maybe even a comedy. Almost all of the farm's workers, volunteers, and management are women - it's "pretty much chick farm," the first person she meets, Erica (Laura Baronet Chowenhill), tells her. It's not a lesbian enclave, though one of the long-term volunteers, Sasha (Emily Elmore) - by now, practically a resident of the place - is out and proud and partnered up. It is, rather, a safe place for a young woman who needs little space to figure things out.

All of which makes the presence of the lone male, Ethan (Jon Vellante), suspect from the start. Ethan is something of a freeloader, living in the trailer of another volunteer, Robin (Kellie Moon), an innocent so credulous and trusting that she buys into Ethan's continual and conveniently self-justifying Bible-quoting.

Laura Baronet Chowenhill and Jon Vellante Laura Baronet Chowenhill as Erica and Jon Vellante as Ethan in 'Heritage Hill Naturals'  (Source:Paul Fox)

Ethan sees himself as possessing a special relationship with God. Is he dangerous? Manipulative? Or just self-deluded? However one sees him, Ethan is on a collision course with Lucy from practically the first moments of their acquaintance, and it's no surprise that the increasing tension between them - in which they push each others' buttons almost by reflex - leads, eventually, to an act of violence.

But neither one of them is necessarily the bad guy... or the good guy, either. As the manager of the volunteer program, Rose (Aislinn Brophy) (who is, in certain ways, above the fray) recognizes, the people who run the farm make for a rough-hewn family not of blood, but of raw necessity. They don't always get along, but they need one another. When Lucy has blown through their lives, with her terror of frogs and her panic attacks, they will still all be there, and they will all still need one another.

Alex Casillas in 'Heritage Hill Naturals'  (Source:Paul Fox)

The play carefully layers the group's relationship dynamics against a problematic backdrop: The farm now exists on what used to be plantation. The absentee owner - who has no aptitude for, knowledge about, or interest in, farming - dwells in a Southern manse of the classic antebellum sort. Complex ties bridges uneasy divisions, and social friction is navigated with delicate canniness by those who understand the way things are, have been, and have to be. To an outsider, of course, such things would be impenetrable; to an outsider with a bent toward self-absorption and entitlement, they would be mysteries so obscure and fathomless as not even to register except in dire circumstances.

The trick of the play (which script, cast, and direction by Phaedra Michelle Scott combine to accomplish) is to make us both. We start as outsiders: Amused, puzzled, a little concerned about where this all might be going. But we end up shouldering the ambivalences and compromises that inform the lives of the play's insiders. Along the way we gain a little of their wisdom, too; not knowledge, per se, but maybe an inkling about the many things we don't know and didn't realize were there to be discovered. That's a sensibility worth cultivating.

"Heritage Hill Naturals" continues through May 26 at the Boston Center for the Arts. Tickets and more information at http://freshinktheatre.org/heritage-hill-naturals/

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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