Seeds of Change would appear to have all the makings of a thoroughbred hit. Michael Weaver, fresh off a national tour of Fiddler on the Roof, is directing. Comedic mainstay Kathie Doyle-Lipe, who has singlehandedly rescued tottering musicals in the past, stars alongside reliable veteran actors Mary Starkey, Maria Caprille and Patrick Treadway. The play itself, penned by local drama professor Craig Rickett, has a promising premise and nearly two years of readings, revisions and rehearsals behind it.
And yet, even with all these apparent strengths, this much-vaunted “world premiere” is less than the sum of its otherwise capable parts. Its story of a trio of post-middle-aged Nazarene sisters (Joy, Faith and Chastity; “We have no Hope”) who attempt to save their floundering mission and emerge from the cocoon of their religious strictures is — despite some worthy zingers and belly laughs — repetitive, unoriginal, overlong and indecisive.
The repetition comes about through plot points or cute gags that are meant to introduce context or continuity. Instead they’re beset by diminishing returns. Joy’s (Doyle-Lipe) forgetfulness is amusing, even touching during the opening scene. When it balloons into an extended comic routine with new neighbor — and Chastity’s (Caprille) eventual suitor — Patrick Donohue (Ron Ford), it’s the sound of a writer who forgot to kill his darlings.
The same overindulgence surrounds the unmarked package from the seed exchange (“Seeds of change?!” questions hard-of-hearing Joy, epitomizing the play’s knowing cleverness). The fact that the seeds’ unknown origin is somehow key, or that they’re actually (gasp!) hemp, is delivered with all the subtlety of a bullhorn announcement accompanied by a hammer blow.
Equally unsubtle are the play’s similarities to Michael Hollinger’s Incorruptible (1996), staged earlier this season at Interplayers. The characters’ background and personalities, their collective predicament, their individual responses to that predicament, as well as the tangential subplots are mirrored in Seeds of Change to an extent that holy relics seem to have simply been swapped out for hash brownies. Farce follows a proven formula, sure; but a point exists where the familiar devolves into the derivative. The plays’ dissimilarities arise in Seeds’ lack of resolve over whether it wants to be an Incorruptible-style farce, a morality tale with an overt political bent, or an episode of Golden Girls.
As such, Seeds of Change represents a missed opportunity that takes more than two hours to play out. Hefty pruning could still address several of its shortcomings; it’s just a shame the shears didn’t come out before opening night.
Seeds of Change • May 9 to 26: Wed-Sat, 7:30 pm; Sun, 2 pm • $28 ($20 senior/military, $12 student) • Interplayers • 174 S. Howard St. • 455-7529 • interplayerstheatre.org