Saturday, April 12, 2014

'Pilgrim' Adaptation at Hollins Is Finely Drawn

Andy Belser's adaptation for the stage of Hollins University alumni Annie Dillard's seminal work, "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," is a fascination of light and sound, of texture and nuance, of language and silence. It is a masterful production of a non-fiction work that must owe much of its vision to Ernie Zulia, the producer and the theater department chairman.

Zulia's fingerprints are all over the final rich production, which features Dillard's Pulitzer-winning layered and often difficult examination of a simple concept: a young woman paying attention.

It is, of course, talky and philosophical, rarely humerous, but always attentive in every sense.

You can still see it. Here's how and when: April 11-12, 16-19, 2014, 7:30 p.m; April 13, 2014, 2 p.m. At Hollins theater; $10 general admission. For online tickets, visit

A mostly-Hollins cast, is headed by 2007 graduate Rachel Nelson (whom I feel I have watched grow up, since seeing her first standout performance as a freshman a decade ago) is flawless. Rachel is earning a master's degree at the University of Maine and is visiting for this performance. It also features veteran Russell Wilson ("Decision Height"), along with Suprima Behle (a freshman from Nepal), Lucrecia Bell, freshman Natalie Pendergast and Virginia Tech founding director of the School of Performing arts Patricia Raun.

The production is a challenge for all the senses, acted mostly in darkness, light shadow and a dreamscape of silouettes, making the choreography and lighting (by John Ambrosone) important to the story. It is a ballet of sorts with occasional floodlighting of faces. The sound, which is often spotty at this level, is just about perfect.

This is difficult material, but there has been no compromise with it and it obviously did not intimmidate a big crowd tonight. It is, however, more accessible to some of us in this format than was Dillard's book (which I tried, and failed, to read). I liked this one a lot and I think it continues to set a standard for Roanoke theater that few small cities even attempt to match.

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