Plays can make us feel lots of things, but rarely is genuine fear one of them. No matter the creepy effect, it’s hard to shake the knowledge that we’re all sitting
together in a theater. This is the conundrum that plagues the Godlight Theatre Company’s new production, James Dickey’s Deliverance. Despite valiant efforts, Sean Tyler’s adaption of the iconic wilderness thriller doesn’t quite impart the terrified awe it seems to crave.
Dickey’s saga is familiar from novel or film: Four citified friends venture into the Georgia backcountry, and what they encounter there — from unforgiving landscape to hostile locals — is so harrowing that they can never fully return to civilization. Here director Joe Tantalo’s take is minimalist: The buddies’ weekend getaway unfolds in the round, on a glossy black floor. Mirrored walls refract dim lighting, sometimes evoking forest murk (but just as often the atmosphere of an underpopulated nightclub). Cast members ably play up the city-country
divide, narrating and miming their way through confrontations with violent rapids and hostile backwoods types. But they never conjure enough stage poetry to make up for the missing rocks, water, and impenetrable forests.
It’s unclear what about Deliverance cried out for the stage. It’s scary, but so are lots of tales — and not all of them require sheer cliff faces in order to deliver.