Floyd Collins: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Floyd Collins, an underground musical based on true historical events, is a challenging piece of bluegrass songs and saddeningly real occurrences.

Floyd Collins was a regular, hardworking man from a God-fearing family in Kentucky, 1925. But instead of farming the land as he was expected to, he was drawn into the lure and mystique of caves. Floyd sought more than the world around him had to offer. He would search caves and then open them to the public for high-priced tours. One day, Floyd discovered a cave bigger than he had ever seen, a dream cave he had been searching for all his life, which soon turned to a nightmare when his foot caught under a boulder, trapping him. How someone would look at that and think it would translate into musical theatre remains to be seen. However, apparently thats the epiphany that struck Adam Guettel, the writer of Floyd Collins.

The music is extremely challenging, and though the actors handled it with grace and assurance, the audience connection was lost within the complex melodies. Musically, Floyd Collins was unrelatable with the exception of one track, “The Ballad of Floyd Collins”, which was more than catchy enough to hold an audience.

However, as a whole, this production was exceptional. Peter Jorgensen is a smart and capable director, keeping the play cohesive even though the way the plot is divided between settings had the potential to be confusing.

With a minimalistic set  consisting of only slanted floor pieces, miming was used to portray the shifting locations. The story was split into two worlds: the one above the ground and the one below. Above ground, there are superficial problems (“surface problems” if you will) where the media flocks to communally panic about the trapped man. This is juxtaposed effectively to how they react when everything they know is at stake. The reality of death being only inches away in the pitch black of a cave is enough to make the most self assured bravado dissipate like vapour.

Darren Herbert (Floyd Collins),  was captivating in his role, perfectly portraying the reality and fear of being stuck with very little possibility of escape. His charisma and voice were perhaps the strongest part of the show. What was exceptionally striking was the metaphor for depression within his character’s situation. To be isolated is relatable to more people than just cavers, and Herbert certainly makes it so. Other notable performances include those of Krystin Pellerin, whose beautiful portrayal of Nellie Collins, Floyd’s sister, was heart wrenching, thanks in no small part to her incredibly pure vocals. Michael Torontow, who played Floyd’s brother, Homer, has a voice that blended perfectly with Herbert’s and was showcased in two duets, both worthy of encores.

If you still aren’t convinced about the show, at least attend to scope out the venue. The York Theatre has an entirely new auditorium with a modernized stage and lobby. Recently demolished and rebuilt, the York Theatre only opened in December 2013.

Floyd Collins is a true showcase of talent for its lead actors, and is likely not to be playing again in Vancouver in the near future, so be sure to check it if you’re interested. Floyd Collins runs until March 30th, and tickets start at $19. For tickets or more information, visit https://thecultch.com/events/floyd-collins/

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