Hear the Grass Grow
Buck Busfield’s new play arrives in the holiday slot, but the show is pegged to Election Day. It opens as a comedy, with folksy Indiana mayor Ernie Putalik (B Street’s David Pierini) in the home stretch of his gubernatorial campaign, with perky wife Peggity (Deborah O’Brien).
They’ve got crazy neighbors: the stubby Reed (Jeff Asch), who extravagantly impersonates female singers, and the flirtatious, much taller Toots (Stephanie McVay).
The mood changes when Ernie’s veteran political strategist (Ed Claudio) shows up with an ice-cold junior partner (Elisabeth Nunziato). She spews out a harsh, funny, dismissive assessment of Hoosier voters. (And Busfield apparently knows his politics—the script references all-but-forgotten Sen. Vance Hartke, a presidential hopeful in ’72 who lost his seat to former Indianapolis Mayor Dick Lugar four years later.)
But politics soon fade from view. There’s a knock at the door, and the Putalik household receives the worst kind of news involving a loved one. Ernie Putalik stops campaigning—stops going out of the house. He no longer sees the point.
What follows is a series of scenes in which different characters take turns trying to talk sense into the suddenly inert Ernie. They tell him he needs to say something to the public. They tell him he needs to do something to demonstrate that his campaign is still running. The days pass. Pierini, for his part, does an excellent job playing this character who’s been jarred into numbness.
But Ernie, in a cute and slightly perverse way, does try to strike up conversations with anonymous phone solicitors, and also talks to the squirrels that have made a racket on his roof. (There’s one corny scene with the squirrels that the playwright may wish to revise.)
Which is to say that Hear the Grass Grow still generates laughs, and behaves like a comedy—but it’s a comedy with a glum, passive character at its center. Yet it’s not a tragedy, like the B Street’s production of Rabbit Hole last year (a story that bears some similarity to this one).
And toward the end, Hear the Grass Grow reprises a few of its earlier themes. Nunziato’s cold-blooded character returns, the crazy neighbors drop in again and the outcome of the election is resolved. Life moves on, without a mechanical, tidy finale—the way things often happen in the real world.