BACK STAGE WEST: May 31, 2001
by Percy MacKaye
Reviewed By Madeleine Shaner

Following a long tradition of producing forgotten plays and challenging theatre, Pacific Resident Theatre once again bravely tackles a difficult project in The Scarecrow, Percy MacKaye’s 1908 play, loosely based on a Hawthorne fable with a 17th century setting. Feared, but not persecuted like Miller’s Crucible denizens, Dickon (a spectacular Orson Bean), possibly the Prince of Darkness, and Goody Rickby, a.k.a. “Blacksmith Bess” (Alley Mills as a perfectly delightful witch), create a scarecrow with a pumpkin for a head, a beet for a heart, suitably shaped vegetables for other body parts, and various found materials that are welded into a scary torso to scare the crows from the corn. Dickon gives the scarecrow (a splendid Tom Wood) the breath of life via a corncob pipe that he must puff or die (making for a lot of unwitting jokes on the eternal verities of smoking), the visage of a slightly dopey man, the innocence of a child, the charm of a title?Lord Ravensbane, Marquis of Oxford, Baron of Wittenberg, Elector of Worms, and Count of Cordova, and a story of vast inherited wealth. In retribution for Goody’s unwilling pregnancy by Justice Gilead Merton (always fine Steve Irish), Lord R. is tutored by Dickon to woo the justice’s niece, Rachel (a delicious Jacqueline Heinze), in order to shame the self-righteous judge into admitting his wrongdoing with the Blacksmith a score of years earlier.

Love will have its way, so will revenge; pride must takes its fall; the truth will always out, and witchcraft, more often than not, triumphs in the cause of good, even as it destroys the innocent weapons of its victory.

Enchanting performances all around, including but not limited to Tony Crane as Rachel’s betrothed, Judith Montgomery as the sister of the Justice, Dennis Madden as the Governor’s Secretary, and Brian Kent as Ravensbane’s scarecrow image in the magic mirror of truth. If there’s a flaw, it comes in the third act, when playwright MacKaye feels obliged to explain the play’s philosophy through the medium of the discarded and disillusioned Scarecrow. Since the moral is pretty clearly nailed by then, the audience’s good will starts to curdle at this wordy extension that takes the play a tad beyond tolerance and maybe 10 minutes beyond forbearance.

Nevertheless, director Charlie Stratton has had a great time reinventing a style of early-20th century playing that hits the high notes with grandiose flourishes and catches all the low notes in a delightful cackle on the way down. Despite its dependence on magic and witchcraft–icons of an earlier time–the playing and the play have a contemporary clarity that catches the laughter, and even some of the tears. Marvelous aid from Kis Knekt’s excellent scenic design, Jill Proctor’s lighting, Audrey Eisner’s proudly period costumes, and John Zalewski’s sound make this another epic event in PRT’s theatrical annals.

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