Hyde Park has always gone to great lengths to bring Austin new, original works, introducing Austin to artists like Will Eno and Annie Baker, and this tradition continues with latest, a unique little piece following a woman whose suicide attempts are sidetracked by strange goings-on at a nearby quarry. This is only the beginning to the strange, but enthralling, experience that is Greg Pierce’s “The Quarry”, and Ken Webster and company bring this strange piece to vivid wondrous life, thanks in no small part to a bravura lead performance by Hyde Park regular Katherine Catmull.
At times “The Quarry” seems to become a New English Murakami, a kind of Lynchian dreamscape, complete with strange stairs, missing girls, and bizarre town hall meetings, with characters’, and, by play’s end, actors’ personalities bobbing and weaving into each other. It takes a strong hand to keep us from getting lost in these thorny woods, but luckily, we have Ken Webster at the reins, who keeps us clearly on the right path, focusing on character within all the strangeness, helping to let the personality and emotions of the play come to the fore.
The most impressive emotive presence in “The Quarry” is Katherine Catmull, who plays the central character Jean. In many ways, “The Quarry” plays out like a one-woman show, with Catmull carrying most of the play on her able shoulders. She’s an astonishing presence on stage, carrying herself with confidence and character, showing a remarkable number of dimensions throughout. She hits her humor points with splendid timing, while also bringing the necessary pathos to the more sorrowful scenes. Her chemistry with Webster in undeniable, and when the real life couple appears on stage you can’t help but crack a smile.
Judging on versatility alone, Jess Hughes easily takes the day. Already nominated for her work earlier this year in “The Christians”, Hughes here shows her range by playing characters that range from 16 to 30, each of them feeling thought-out and unique. Her vulnerability is remarkable as lost girl, but one can’t ignore her humorous, but impressive, physicality as a hippie neighbor, and the way she’s able to switch back and forth shows she’ a rare breed of actress.
There’s something boldly original about “The Quarry”, which hides strange events and ideas under the surface, while presenting us with characters who could come from our own neighborhoods. It’s reminiscent of the work of Haruki Murakami or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which means that it would take a smart, steady director and cast to make the material connect to the audience. Luckily, the folks at Hyde Park Theatre are up to the task, creating a textured, emotional, and unique theatrical experience, led by a tour-de-force performance from Katherine Catmull. It shows an interesting direction for Hyde Park to take, and one hopes that they continue to keep choosing such unique works to share with Austin audiences.