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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Rose and the Rine

Or: Though the Circle be Unbroken....

In his opening note on his remount of Rose and the Rine, director and co-writer Nathan Allen quotes Albert Einstein’s favorite formula, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairytales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairytales.” Allen has come together with Chris Mathews and Jake Minton to create a “A Modern Myth for the Middle West”, and oh, do they do it right. Laughter, heartbreak, hide-under-the-blankets terror, truly this story has it all.

Once upon a time the little town of Radio Falls, Michigan, frolicked in an eternal summer, its sunny fortunes fueled by a golden coin of immense power. But such a potent force gave birth to envy and greed and the coin was stolen by the merciless Rine Witch (Ericka Ratcliff) who cursed the town with an eternal winter before secreting her treasure in the regions of thick ribbed ice. Years later, Rose (Paige Collins) a young girl orphaned by the witch and raised partly by her uncle Rodger (Michael E. Smith) and partly by the frostbitten, eccentric, but lovable citizens of Radio Falls, follows a white rabbit outside the safety of the town, resolving to bring back the coin and restore summer. Little does she know that by so doing she is setting a very old story into motion, one whose corse, unstoppable as winter, has no time for ‘happily ever after’.

Allen, Mathews, and Minton have crafted a fine tuned fairytale, piled with heaps of light and carnivalesque whimsy in some places and oblong blocks of dark and chewy adult issues in others. The show is highly kid friendly and audience dependent, so come ready to clamber over the fourth wall and hoist the youngling up and over with you. You can listen to their gasps of wonder at the fantastic feats of storytelling gifted to them, while also attuned to your own thudding heartbeat and the peculiar silent wail that comes out a congregation of the theater goers when their souls are overcharged with awe, as they begin to see how deep and dark the rabbit hole is.

True to House tradition, much of the dialog is made up of simultaneous shouting as various characters try to get their voices heard all at once. But while those bits you do hear are not exactly the poetical successors of Euripides or Gilbert, they do, with Allan’s direction (with garnishing from choreographer Tommy Rapley) furnish a vibrant ensemble, not just there to provide humor or someone for the principals to talk to, or play the parts of acrobatic wolves, or provide a jug and bottle orchestra, or give hand service to the omnipresent white rabbit (though they do a smashing job in all these things). Allen and his actors have created a collection of true characters, with real human strengths (keeping neighborliness, creativity and hope alive in their snowbound world) and failings (struggling with doubt, loneliness, alcoholism). Each is worthy of your attention, of their own story, and you feel you get to know them as neighbors, as friends. Not to say our leads are outshone. Collins couples her expert childhood innocence to a truly astounding willingness to be tossed and punted around by her cast mates (as she encounters the various trials of her quest) and building to a wrenching horror as the Rough Music of her story reaches its crescendo. It’s hard to see a the little girl we’ve cheered for and winced for and watch grow up fall so hard and so fast and so low. Smith is cozily settled into his roll as Rodger, full of stories and avuncular concern, but he tips his hand just enough to show us his inner turmoil, trying to piece together the puzzle of the past before it becomes the present, his back against the door of some deep and terrible guilt. Ratcliff’s performance is dumbfounding as we watch her rail in her isolate lair, mad with grief and jealousy, moaning a lullaby for a future quenched and ashen.

It is unusual but fitting that I should also give suitable mention to stage manager Kelly Claussen for an expertly called and no doubt nerve wracking show. Accolades should also be tossed to properties and costume designers Collette Pollard and Melissa Torchia who’s creations, though innovative, never capture our attention in and of themselves but provide the channel for the ensemble to do their full work as storytellers.

Watching Rose and the Rine make me feel like a kid again, late at night with the north wind scratching at the window and the starlight glinting on the snow. Taking my educational cue from Dr. Einstein, I would often spend such nights, tucked in amongst the blankets on the couch conjuring a world of adventure and tragedy in the arena of my mind. Now though the tale that I unspool is being created before my eyes, not behind them, by a whole host of storytellers (each more detail oriented and sharper than my own weak imaginings). I am overawed by the grace and talent of the cast and crew and their amazing feats but I am more deeply moved by the thought given to this story of virtue gone wrong, happiness soured. Watching the tale unravel is like regressing to childhood and then growing up again, rediscovering how wonderful and terrible the world can be. I am pleased beyond measure to take this modern myth for the middle west to my heart and hope it will not be too many years when I can walk into the cheery light and fluttering snow of Radio Falls again.

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