Anyone hesitant to check out a one-person show should check out Dorset Theater Festival’s Scarecrow. It’s not only terribly funny, deeply touching and very powerful, it’s downright entertaining.
The Dorset Theater Festival opened the world premiere production of Scarecrow, written and performed by Heidi Armbruster, at the Dorset Playhouse on Friday. For 80 minutes, Armbruster entertains you with the story of her time with her Wisconsin dairy farmer father in his final days and its life-changing effects.
“Scarecrow,” as delivered by Armbruster, envelops you in her very personal world while being heartbreaking and funny at the same time – captivating and irresistible, in fact.
When Armbruster, a New York actress and playwright, realized her father was dying, she felt compelled to return to her native Wisconsin to be with them, despite — or because of — their difficult but loving relationship he was her “most important person”. (When are you going to get married and have kids? You call two plays a career?)
Despite the lack of an invitation, Armbruster moves in with her father and in his last 33 days they renegotiate their relationship. Meanwhile, she finds solace in a series of imaginary Hallmark films in which she stars, including a particularly bittersweet one in which she meets a sexy male cancer patient in the hospital. Her self-mockery is totally understandable and often hilarious.
After her father’s death, Armbruster couldn’t bring herself to leave the farm, probably because her transformation was not yet complete. (COVID helped.) Armbruster’s attempts at becoming a farmer will be a light-hearted comedy for any Vermonter. About her friendship with her father’s neighbor, deaf with hip prostheses like all farmers; her successful chive harvest; her unexpected meeting with feral kittens, including one in particular; and her confrontation with an unfortunate bull; and a lot more. It’s not quite Green Acres – it’s funnier because it’s real.
Armbruster is one of many characters in her story, and she seamlessly and skillfully manages to make her voice and demeanor match the others. Times shift too, but it’s never confusing. It was difficult to listen to Armbruster Freitag at times, but only very occasionally.
And the world Armbruster inhabits at the Dorset Playhouse is graphically much more effective than most one-person shows. In a brilliantly crafted staging, suggestive set pieces throughout the stage, some hanging from the ceiling, including hints of a farmhouse, by Christopher and Justin Swader, work together with dramatic, ever-changing lighting by Paul Whitaker to create shifting scenes and moods to allow. Fitz Patton’s sound design underscores Armbruster’s Wisconsin farming experience, including – of course – Johnny Cash influences.
Armbruster was accompanied from the start by Dorset Artistic Director Dina Janis, who oversaw the production. Scarecrow, made in Vermont, was originally developed in the festival’s Women Artists Writing Group and then workshopped last summer as part of the pipeline line of new tracks.
More than storytelling, Armbruster invites you into her deeply personal world in Scarecrow. It’s a really beautiful place.