Ballad Hunter, Chicago Dramatists. The Appalachian mountains are our country’s designated place of magic and enchantment, and so it’s appropriate that Jenny Laird set her Ballad Hunter in the remote hills of West Virginia, its characters sunk in the poverty and isolation engendered by the Depression. The action centers on the local midwife, who lives with her embittered mother and elfin daughter; a shy, watchful, hideously scarred junk man next door seems to be the only male in the region. But then a surveyor from the Rural Electrification Administration arrives to plead the case for progress–a young man steeped in Edward Bellamy’s utopian vision who believes that the future will bring an end to the fear and suspicion that have ruled these unhappy citizens for so long.

Under the sensitive direction of Robin Stanton, this Chicago Dramatists world premiere forges a myth of atonement and resurrection that holds us spellbound. We barely notice how deftly Laird sets up her dramatic questions: What happened to all the men? Who is the reclusive neighbor, and how did he receive his injuries? Why are the rabbits that might have provided food for the people mysteriously dying? Then, just as deftly and delicately, she answers them, saving the secret of the play’s title for last. Intense, focused performances and meticulously detailed technical effects make each step of the journey as riveting as its final revelation is satisfying.

–Mary Shen Barnidge