HUDSON -- When the call comes in, they come running.
“Population 485” follows the members of the New Auburn, or as locals call it “Nobbern,” volunteer fire department. The members come from all walks of life, ages, jobs, but when a crisis hits, they come together to help their neighbors.
The play is beautifully written by Michael Perry, based off his book by the same name, and wonderfully executed by The Phipps.
Both haunting and heartwarming at times, the play spans multiple years, several calls, many laughs and tears, and even a few celebrations along the way. It is funny and thoughtful as it handles the daily idiosyncrasies of a small town and the larger universal truths of life, the two far from being mutually exclusive.
The story is familiar to those will small-town experience, as well as those with human experience.
After years away, the Narrator, played by Brian Cern, has returned to his hometown and joined the volunteer fire department. He’s in good and varied company, including his brother Jed, played by Mitchell Bugni, and Mother Perry, played by Lela Olson; as well as the entertaining and one-eyed Beagle, played by Tom Monn, captain and mother of four played by Jennifer Allton, and more.
Through the department the Narrator works to reacquaint himself with his hometown and its people, as the book title says, “one siren at a time.”
The calls vary, from mundane to life-threatening. The play is full of contrasts, the lighthearted and the heavy often co-existing in the same scene.
The Narrator leads the audience through it all. A writer, his descriptions of events are sometimes beautiful prose, sometimes simple walk-throughs, but always evocative.
As the characters respond to the scene of the calls, the space where the victim would be is empty, no actor or prop used to represent them. Instead the cast of rescuers work around the emptiness, checking vitals and giving CPR.
Their absence is striking. It reminds the audience that the scene, and the victim’s survival, relies solely on the rescuers. Though there is no physical victim, the audience is still drawn in, attached to their fate, worrying for their future.
The sounds and effects further add to the effect of the story, a gunshot ringing out or a helicopter whirring in the air.
“Population 485” unfolds in front of a beautiful backdrop of country hills and cloudy blue sky, which lies behind a stage setting that is all utility. Easily-movable benches help change the setting from fire hall to bar, and the wooden pillars hold the various firefighting gear.
Beyond the play, the run of “Population 485” also includes an author talk with Michael Perry on Sept. 19 and a forum on civil discourse on Sept. 24.
“Population 485” runs through Sept. 29 at The Phipps, with performances Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.