by CLARK GROOME
Young Aaron Hayes dropped out of Cornell to spend some time working with bees and traveling the country to help plant and harvest crops. Having grown up in a privileged household — he went to Exeter before Cornell, and his doctor father is a Congressman — he really enjoyed working outdoors, seeing things he never thought he’d see with friends he never imagined and gradually figuring out just who he is.
Aaron’s story forms the center of Kenneth Lin’s “Fallow,” which is being giving a strong world premiere through Feb. 5 at Malvern’s People’s Light and Theatre Company. Aaron (the superb George Olesky) ends up in California with a bunch of Mexican farm workers. Mistaken for an illegal — most of his co-workers were here legally — he’s murdered in what was clearly a hate crime.
Lin’s play opens with Aaron writing a letter to his mother (Mary Elizabeth Scallen), whom he calls Mimsy, a conceit that is used effectively throughout the play. We learn lots about what Aaron is doing and thinking in those letters home.
The play’s real action begins after that first short scene when Mimsy arrives in California to meet with her son’s murderers. Picked up at the airport by a Mexican cab driver, Happy Lugo (the convincing Robert Montano), Lin allows the play and the story to unfold fairly leisurely. As it turns out, Happy and Aaron were friends. Their relationship and the realities of how Mexicans are treated in the agricultural parts of California are complex and create questions that are gradually answered.
Jackson Gay has directed “Fallow” with just the right pacing. There were times when it felt like the play had stalled — and perhaps it had — but those moments were brief enough that the end product was still a strong, if capable of being tightened, new play.
The acting was, for the most part, very good. There were a couple of moments when Scallen seemed to be pushing for her emotions, with the result being a somewhat over-the-top performance.
That may have been due to the fact that one of the supporting actors, Stephen Novelli, was out sick at the performance I saw, with the always-reliable Tom Teti filling in with script in hand. It was a short scene, yet the whole business may have been disconcerting to the cast.
People’s Light’s “Fallow” has been handsomely designed by Wilson Chin (sets), Joshua Schulman (lighting), Jessica Ford (costumes) and Toby Jaguar Algya (sound).
For tickets to the world premiere of Kenneth Lin’s “Fallow,” playing through Feb. 5 at People’s Light and Theatre in Malvern, call 610-644-3500 or visit www.peopleslight.org