‘Trails’ Shows Promise But Needs Work

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Dane Stokinger (Mike) and Joshua Carter (Seth). Photo by Jay Koh. Property of Village Theatre.
Dane Stokinger (Mike) and Joshua Carter (Seth). Photo by Jay Koh. Property of Village Theatre.

Trails, the new work in development currently playing at the Village Theatre in Issaquah, tells the story of two childhood friends who grew apart, Seth (Joshua Carter) and Mike (Dane Stokinger), who hope to reconnect as they hike the Appalachian Trail. As they travel along the 2,175 miles, they brood on their past, the girl they loved, Amy (Kirsten deLohr Helland), life and death. Along the way, they encounter Faith (Sarah Rose Davis), Virgil (John Patrick Lowrie) and Momma Harley (Bobbi Kotula) who have their own reasons for travelling the Appalachian Trail and who help them understand their own journey, teaching them lessons about living life and dealing with loss.

Carter, deLohr Helland and Kotula each shine in their respective solos, ‘Millions of Reasons,’ ‘Miles of Time,’ and ‘The Road is My Home.’ In fact, the entire cast does a fine job carrying the musical. My criticisms lie with the actual show itself. Trails appeared in the 2011 Village Originals Festival of New Musicals and is still evolving. The show has a solid foundation and potential, but there is room for improvement. As Misha Berson of the Seattle Times points out, “Thinking, feeling, mourning are not usually the stuff of dynamic musical theater.” The characters mainly stay at the same generic soul-searching emotional level throughout the show. Because of the heavy nature of the issues Seth and Mike face, Trails should have earlier periods of either comic relief or rousing intensity to give the audience a change of pace. The supremely talented Bobbi Kotula as Momma Harley does not have the opportunity to make the crowd laugh until well into the second act, although she certainly makes the most of that chance.

Faith shares her upcoming betrothal tale with Mike, and Virgil reluctantly discusses the accident that has haunted him daily. Their scenes seem unconnected to the rest of the show. It is not until the end when Mike’s story is fully revealed that the parallels between his proposal and own tragedy and Faith and Virgil’s stories can be seen. If Mike had alluded to his own proposal or made an oblique reference to his own accident while talking with Faith and Virgil, their stories would not seem so separate from the narrative.

The trio of trail guides seems superfluous to the show. While they set the scene by explaining facts about the Appalachian Trail itself, this information could easily be inserted in a line or two of dialog. By having three separate characters onstage solely to talk about the trail, the writers pull the audience out of the story temporarily for no purpose. As my companion pointed out, while the trail facts are interesting, the show is about the journey, not the physical trail itself.

Trails is onstage at the Village Theatre in Issaquah through April 21, 2013, before moving to the Everett Performing Arts Center where it will run from April 26 through May 19, 2013.

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