Lead performances lift
November 5, 2003
By Marcus Crowder
Bee Theater Critic
"Mother Hicks is a witch they say,"
echoes the chant of the Ware, Ill., townspeople. Set in the Mississippi
River Valley in 1935, Susan Zeder's uneven folk melodrama
"Mother Hicks" skims the intertwined stories of three people existing on the margins of the town's rural society.
Director Michele Koehler's California Stage production is a stolid, straightforward affair, carried by affecting
lead performances from Crom Saunders and Alexyss Valdez.
Saunders plays Tuc, a young deaf man who works as a laborer. Tuc communicates through sign language, narrating
the story, while his signs are verbalized by a chorus of townspeople. Saunders (who is hearing- and speech-impaired) is an
engaging actor with subtle physical and facial expressiveness.
the orphan, Girl, who, having no known relatives, gets passed around the town to live with various families who can take her
in. Valdez gives the role both a necessary energy and passion
that make the audience root for her and empathize with her plight.
Zeder's plot, which is based on folklore collected by the Federal Writers' Project in the 1930s, presents Lynne
Perry's mysterious Mother Hicks as something of the town curiosity. She lives alone in the woods, and her neighbors in town
suspect she is a witch. They attribute various misfortunes to magic spells she has created.
The story largely concerns Girl's attempts to find her own mother and eventually tells how she, Tuc and Mother
Hicks come together to support one another.
But the playwright spends too much time developing the town's antipathy toward Mother Hicks while only superficially
dealing with the more-interesting triangle of the dispossessed creating their own community.
Zeder dilutes some of the story's drama, Valdez and Saunders
are beguiling performers who give "Mother Hicks" appealing charisma.