Monday, August 27, 2012

The Twelfth Labor by Leegrid Stevens, Tutto Theatre at MacTheatre black box, August 10 - September 1

Twelfth Labor Leegrid Stevens, Tutto Theatre AUstin TX

by Michael Meigs

If you arrive at the MacTheatre Black Box with happy memories of Leegrid Stevens' The Dudleys as staged last year by Tutto Theatre -- winner of eight of Austin's B. Iden Payne theatre awards -- you may well be disconcerted. The Twelfth Labor, behind its enigmatic title, is as far from the hectic world of 8-bit video games as, say, Eugene O'Neil or William Faulkner.

Tutto has mounted a gorgeously moody, intellectually challenging piece, comprised of Steven's four-part suite in the stark isolation of a farmhouse somewhere out on an alien landscape of the mind. Designer Ia Ensterä again creates a wrap-around environment in weathered wood, a falling-down barn and a two-story farmhouse.
Twelfth Labor Leegrid Stevens Tutto Theatre Austin TX
Erin Treadway, Rebecca Robinson (image: Kimberley Meade)

Stevens' script is densely conceptual, a virtual Cirque de Soleil of intellectual performance, but the story is much less complicated than his working and reworking of it. This Idaho farm family lives in harsh rural deprivation in 1949.

Rebecca Robinson plays Esther the grim matriarch, trying to hold together her own existence and those of the four variously handicapped or rebellious children of the family. The father of this beleaguered family disappeared into Japanese prisoner-of-war camps in the Pacific eight years before and has never returned.

The program lists the labors of Hercules, the last of which is his wrestling with Cerberus, the monster guarding the Underworld. But there's no obvious or easy parallel here -- in fact, pattern-makers might find that with the absent father, a couple of suitors, and the strong matriarch could track the late passages of the Odyssey just as well; the father does eventually return.

Cleo the oldest daughter is severely dyslexic and mentally handicapped -- an earnest, striving young woman old before her time, bewildered by language that twists and turns on her mind the way a live snake might. In this role Erin Treadway delivers a performance that will break your heart, first to last, certainly one of the year's most impressive dramatic performances.

(Click 'to read continuation and view performance photos at

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