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The Kentucky Cycle 

When: Mon., Aug. 27, 7:30 p.m., Tue., Aug. 28, 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays, Thursdays, 7:30 p.m., Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m., Saturdays, 2 p.m. and Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Oct. 28 2007
Price: $33-$38

Robert Schenkkan's nine-play cycle following one Appalachian family over the course of two centuries, The Kentucky Cycle establishes right away that it's not some Thanksgiving pageant, even if Melissa Torchia's buckskins and Peter Crompton's rotating big-pile-of-wood set make it look like one. The six-hour, two-night show turns bloody in a hurry, and things don't get any nicer from there. The epic scope of the piece is impressive, from early settlers to sharecroppers, the Civil War, and the devastation of the land (and people) by coal-mining concerns. The Willows production is serviceable, but hampered by limp performances and Elliott's often static staging in which a few people talk while many others stand around listlessly. The short plays depend on each other for weight and context, but because each bit leaps forward 20 or 40 years it's not a cohesive narrative either. The second half is a slog, especially a tedious union-organizing chapter that goes on forever before intermission. (Through October 28 at the Willows Theatre; or 925-798-1300)

— Sam Hurwitt


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