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Signature Theatre Presents "The Mound Builders" by Lanford Wilson at Pershing Square Signature Center
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Signature Theatre Presents "The Mound Builders" by Lanford Wilson at Pershing Square Signature Center

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Signature Theatre Presents:
The Mound Builders

By Lanford Wilson
Directed by Jo Bonney

Signature Theatre
(Signature Theatre Website)
James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director
Erika Mallin, Exec. Director
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 244-PLAY (7529)

Zachary Booth, Janie Brookshire, David Conrad,
Lisa Joyce, Rachel Resheff, Will Rogers,
Danielle Skraastad

Scenic Design: Neil Patel
Costume Design: Theresa Squire
Lighting Design: Rui Rita
Sound Design: Darron L. West
Projection Design: Shawn Sagady
Dialect Coach: Deborah Hecht
Production Stage Manager: Lori Ann Zepp
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Casting: Telsey + Company/William Cantler/CSA
Assoc. Artistic Director: Beth Whitaker
General Manager: Adam Bernstein
Director of Marketing & Audience Services: David Hatkoff
Director of Production: Paul Ziemer

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 3, 2013

The seven characters in Lanford Wilson’s The Mound Builders are seven of the most undesirable, uninteresting, and uncharismatic characters I’ve ever experienced. This was ironic, considering the intense fascination of the two characters in Wilson’s Talley’s Folly, running now on Broadway. Signature Theatre has revived this 1970’s work, about an ensemble of friends, one of which is a married couple with a child, who spend summers in dedicated digs of archeological import in Blue Shoals, Illinois, at the junction of four rivers and five states. I would have preferred a photo lecture of the geographical region over sitting through this two-act play, with the first act taking place in Urbana, Illinois. Time runs backward in excruciating confusion, with unlikable characters flirting, bedding, insulting, tormenting, and attacking one another, all in the name of science and history.

David Conrad is Professor August Howe, the play’s academic and outgoing narrator and slide projectionist, who tells tales of last summer’s dig with illustrative photos. Howe’s wife, Cynthia (Janie Brookshire) is a chilly, self-possessed type, who’s having a carefree, impulsive fling, with little chemistry, with Chad Jasker (Will Rogers), a tall, lanky, hanger-on, who walks and talks like a trucker, but has self-serving plans that will destroy the mission of his cohorts. Chad also has an unstoppable obsession with the pregnant wife of Dr. Dan Loggins (Zachary Booth), Howe’s assistant, and a dark, erotic obession with Dan, as well. The pregnant wife, Dr. Jean Loggins (Lisa Joyce), a gynecologist, is on maternity leave, and all the above characters are staying together in Howe’s home, along with Howe’s young daughter, Kirsten (Rachel Resheff). Added to the melee of mingling personas is D.K. (Delia) Eriksen (Danielle Skraastad), Howe’s sister, who lives in pajamas and never leaves the couch, until almost the end of Act II. Act I is a reunion of sorts, while Act II is supposed to answer questions. As the soporific dialogue ensues, within each act, drug and alcohol fueled hurtfulness, like August and D.K.’s sibling rivalry and revelations of decades-old, parental rejection, make the clock tick slowly.

A rare celebration ensued on the discovery of a golden mask and other archeological relics for the team’s collection boxes, but that discovery was soon followed by grief. Yet, even in that dynamic one could care little about one character’s fate, as the mood was so relentlessly sour. With a change of director and cast, this could be a more interesting play, but, here, it was less than lackluster. There were a few brief moments, when one might have bonded emotionally, such as D.K.’s familial hurt and estrangement, Jean’s fear of involvement with Chad, Dan’s fear of involvement with Chad, and Kirsten’s bad luck to live in this house. Rachel Resheff is a child actor to watch, with comfortable stage presence. Jo Bonney missed the mark in drawing the viewer in. Neil Patel’s sets were busy and contained the rough-hewn qualities of the milieu. Rui Rita’s lighting was dark and dreary. Shawn Sagady created the projections of the dig, but their placement at rear stage did not allow for connection, a metaphor for this production.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at