The Tarnation of Russell Colvin, written by, and performed by, Oliver Wadsworth. Directed by Kirk Jackson. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Oliver Wadsworth in The Tarnation of Russell Colvin
"The whole thing was a hoax. Most things are."
When it comes to opinions facts fly out windows. In the strange case of Russell Colvin, a man who went missing in 1812 and was declared dead in 1819, opinions differ widely and facts are documented versions of those alternative facts. A strangely timely work in the early months of the Trump era when the word "trump" has taken on new, highly debatable, meaning, the story of Manchester, Vermont's missing citizen is a very amusing look at how that word plays such a large role in this local history. Actor Oliver Wadsworth has created a forty character, one man play to investigate the depth, width and breadth of this unsolved murder case in which two men were convicted, but the outcome of the case is still debatable.
When Colvin reappeared from a refuge in New Jersey he shook the credibility of the case. When his validity was questioned, when his identity was unmasked, when his physical reality was contrasted with his ghostly presence, everything that was sure and certain became an open question. Herein lies the drama. The comedy is in the way Wadsworth has crafted his play.
Rural Manchester, VT
For him the mystery is in the playing. He opens the one-man show as British mystery author Wilkie Collins ("The Woman in White," "The Moonstone") then reveals another identity and then another. It doesn't take long to get into the rhythm of this play and half the fun is watching Wadsworth transform himself from one narrative character to another, from one deeply personal participant in the story to an onlooker, reporter of the "facts" to scoffer.
In barely one hour and ten minutes this actor takes us along with himself on a ride through the politics of principles. Reporters are taught to find the who, what, where, when and why of a story as a basis for all reportage. As playwright Wadsworth has delved into these concepts exceptionally well. His director, Kirk Jackson, has played with these simple basics well, never letting a "fact" escape when it can be exposed. The glory of this work is that not one fact is completely supportable so the presentation by Wadsworth the actor is focused on making each character's story or opinion hold its own strength in its own reality.
Some may remember the play, or film, "Rashomon" in which five witnesses to a rape tell their versions of the story. Some facts emerge as truthful for they appear in different retellings of the basic story. In many ways this play uses that idea. However in the over-arching vision of what is true here, there is little overlap and so the entertainment value of the play is its picture of honesty undergoing incessant tweaking.
I am not a fan of one-man shows which often grow dull through the lack of characters seen and heard. In this show Wadsworth shows us just about everyone and so there are no lapses in interest, never, as they say, a dull moment. Developed, in part, at the Dorset Theatre Festival, it is now their season opener for four performances only. I saw the third on Saturday night, and it's final appearance there is tonight. Designed to tour - is is basically a play in a trunk - it will be seen again in Jamaica VT on June 22, Wardsboro, VT on June 24, South Londonderry, VT on June 30 with more tour dates to come.
The Tarnation of Russell Colvin plays through June 10 at the Dorset Theatre Festival 104 Cheney Road, Dorset, VT. For information and tickets call802-867-2223.