It's coming up on the Fourth of July and the MacBurn family has checked into KOALA (Kampground Of American Liberty for All) for their annual State of Jefferson Picnic, courtesy of Dell'Arte International. For generations, the MacBurns have had the campground to themselves — back since their cabin sat on the edge of a toxic swamp. But the important thing was — it was their toxic swamp.
Mac MacBurn, the family patriarch (Donald Forrest in a gloriously over-the-top performance reminiscent of his Trumpian turn at the Mad River Festival last year) is a dyed-in-the-wool America Firster. His wife, Mary (Sarah Peters, all sweetness and light), is determined that everyone have a good time. Son Carls Jr.* (a single-minded Jamie Van Camp) is a more focused and less smart version of his dad, and his hugely pregnant sister Wendys teeters precariously between her MacBurn roots and her Women's Studies education at Humboldt State University (a nicely balanced performance by Rebecca Finney). And yes, there is a reason these two are named after fast-food restaurants — but you'll have to go see the play to find out.
Then there's Wendys' vegetarian partner Forest (Lucius Robinson), clearly attempting to stay sane in the face of increasingly hostile attitudes (and homemade brats made from deer shot by Mac). Rounding out the party is crazy old Grandma MacBurn (a tour de force by James Peck), who sees the face of Christ in kettle chips, is convinced cellphones have opened the gateway to hell and believes Michelle Obama has a penis.
Just as the family is getting settled in, The Boomers (an aging hippie band featuring local favorites Marla Joy, Tim Randles, Jeff Kelley and Mike LaBolle) arrive at the next-door campsite. Mac, of course, wants them gone and immediately summons Bob the campground manager (a delightful Bob Wells wearing his slightly curmudgeonly old-coot persona). Both parties have permits, so Mac is told. To his chagrin, he'll have to share.
No sooner has the band settled in than two brothers from India arrive to celebrate the life of their late uncle, who "came here to be a tuk tuk driver for Google Maps." Bumfar (Pratik Motwani in a finely-tuned comic interpretation) is obsessed with American movie culture and harbors an unexplained terror of elk, while his more Americanized brother Brad (a nicely controlled performance by Tushar Mathew) struggles to keep Bumfar's expectations real. Ever full of hope for humanity, Brad even renames the campground "Kinsmen of America Love All." But when Mac sees Bumfar setting up an altar in a suitcase, he insists Bob remove the "foreigners worshipping rocks." Unfortunately for Mac, these foreigners also have a permit.
Just as Mac attempts to swallow his biases and teach the Indians about the great American barbecue tradition, the sound of singing in a strange language wafts over them and the ethereal Anemone (regally portrayed by Zafiria Dimitropoulou) appears, followed by her (gasp) black husband Paz (an imposing and self-assured Tafadzwa Bob Mutumbi). When told that the pair has been directed by their shaman to come to this precise spot to conceive a child, Mac completely loses it, declaring to the long-suffering (and now "Commie suspect") campground manager that this holiday is about "celebrating America for Americans."
In a final attempt to salvage the family holiday weekend, Mary persuades Mac to negotiate a settlement in which each group gets its own roped-off area to celebrate in their own way — with one unusual proviso. Mac declares that anything falling accidentally into another group's territory automatically becomes that group's property — a decision which will come back to haunt him and teach him an important lesson before the end of the weekend.
The scenic design by Lynnie Horrigan is wonderfully evocative of campgrounds throughout the Pacific Northwest and the costumes are nothing short of amazing. Mike Foster's lighting design, James Hildebrandt's technical direction and Caitlin Volz's production management keep the atmosphere and the action on track.
The band, with musical direction and additional songwriting by Timmy Gray, creates a narrative thread throughout the play through both new works and mashups of familiar protest songs. There's a good chance you'll be singing "The State of Jefferson is Emerging" to the tune of "The Times, They are a-Changing" as you head home after the show.
Written by Michael Fields, Janessa Johnsrude, Zuzka Sabata and Jamie Van Camp, with additional material by Jeff Kelley, and directed by Fields, The State of Jefferson is rife with topical references to the dangers of isolationism, the tendency to demonize the "other," finding balance between freedom and security and the sense of belonging we all aspire to feel. And as for the State of Jefferson itself — well, it started out as a symbol of geographic alliances that perceived injustice based on place — and maybe, just maybe, its time has finally arrived.
Performances of The State of Jefferson Picnic continue Friday, Saturday and Sundays at 8 p.m. through July 2 at the Rooney Amphitheater. Call 668-5663 or visit www.dellarte.com.
The Mad River Festival rolls on. The Big Top Family Series features The Mysterious Magical Brandishers of Magic in the Pierson Big Hammer Tent on June 25 at 2 p.m. with a little mystery, a little physical comedy and a little magic. Call 668-5663 or visit www.dellarte.com.
Mad Lab 1 and Mad Lab 2 bring experimental works in progress — Win the War or Tell me a Story, Wolves in the Shadows, When I Die Leave the Balcony Open and Embedded — by Dell'Arte faculty and alumni on June 21 and June 28 in the Carlo Theatre at 8 p.m. Call 668-5663 or visit www.dellarte.com.
The saucy adult cabaret Red Light in Blue Lake shimmies onstage at the Carlo Theatre on June 30 and July 1 at 10:30 p.m. Call 668-5663 or visit www.dellarte.com.