Purple Rose's 'White Buffalo' mixes domestic discord with the rhythms of the spirit world
Thursday, April 19 — The Purple Rose theater lights dim to a pitch-black dark. There is a moment of silence, followed by the sharp crack of a thunderbolt. Seconds later, strobe-lightning reveals movement: a writhing, convoluted Native-American ghost dance. It is the prophesied white buffalo, struggling to be born, an event that promises the end of wars, the beginning of an extended era of prosperity and peace.
As day breaks, we are on the Wisconsin farm of Carol Gelling, a tenacious single mother trapped in an ongoing existential battle with Abby, her troubled, suffering teenaged daughter. They have experienced multiple losses, but now seem to have been blessed with the phenomena of a one-in-ten-million birth—a purely white buffalo calf.
Is it a blessing or a curse? Will it transform them, bring them together, or tear them apart? Will they keep the animal or sell her for millions of dollars, which could wipe away their day-to-day financial struggles and allow Abby to attend the college of her choice?
Daughter and mother are at the heart of this story, as youthful idealism fights with the pragmatic wisdom of life experience. Staci Hadgikosti, as Abby, and Michelle Mountain, as Carol, are well-matched; ferocious intensity and unrelenting determination light up the stage.
Michael Brian Ogden is the mysterious young stranger, John Two Rivers, an anglicized Lakota Sioux, who shows up with his own unresolved cultural issues. He’s conflicted about whether he believes in miracles. Alex Leydenfrost is prodigal father, Mike, returning after an eight-year absence, having recovered from grief and hard-drug abuse and wanting to reconcile with Carol. Both men are earnest and convincing in their roles. Leydenfrost and Mountain create a raging and tender word-dance of painful reconciliation.
Sioux ghost dancers hover, appear and disappear in a continuous mist. There is an evening of native dance in the meadow, as Rainbow Dickerson and Meghan Thompson reresent the buffalo calf and her mother, a voice crying in the wilderness. They are joined by Gregory Butka, providing a recurring drum beat, and by Matthew David and Nate Mitchell, two mostly silent ghost-dancers. Overall, their energy is magic.
The constant juxtaposition of painful everyday realities combined with a form of mystic realism smartly contrasts the bi-cultural spiritual elements of this play. When do we embrace a mythic belief and when do we dismiss it? What might transform and heal us as we recover from tragic losses?
“White Buffalo” is a weighty play, stirring up sobering questions of faith and belief. Writer Don Zolidis and Purple Rose artistic director Guy Sanville have collaborated effectively, merging and marrying competing forms of theater to create something unique.
Purple Rose Theatre
137 Park St., Chelsea
Through June 2
3 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 2 p.m. Sundays
$25 Wednesdays and Thursdays; $35 Fridays and Saturday and Sunday matinees; $40 Saturday evenings