by Percy MacKaye

Than Mere Stuffing Inside This ‘Scarecrow’ By PHILIP BRANDES, Special to The Times

LA TIMES 5/31/01

Going the ancient alchemist’s quest one better, Percy MacKaye’s “The Scarecrow” at Pacific Resident Theatre brilliantly explores the transmutation of base matter into something even more precious than gold: the human soul. Based on “Feathertop,” a macabre Nathaniel Hawthorne tale about a sentient scarecrow given human form, MacKaye’s 1911 play extended the sardonic focus of its source to embrace the extremes of experience–spooky, romantic, hilarious and tragic. Fusing these disparate elements is itself an act of directorial alchemy by Charlie Stratton, who seamlessly modulates the play’s unexpected atmospheric shifts and dense philosophic musings. The result is an always entertaining and profoundly moving inquiry into the nature of being human. This isn’t your father’s Pinocchio, however–as evidenced in the “Macbeth”-like opening, in which a vengeful witch (fiery Alley Mills) conjures up the Satanic Dickon (Orson Bean, oozing malevolent charm) to help her transform her pumpkin-headed scarecrow into a handsome aristocrat (Tom Wood)–superbly executed stage magic, even when you know it’s coming. In a transcendent central performance, Wood’s Scarecrow smoothly shifts gears to comedy as, under Dickon’s biting tutelage, he woos the niece (Jacqueline Heinze) of a lecherous magistrate (Steve Irish) who once betrayed the witch. The Scarecrow’s perplexed attempts to mimic human behavior dazzle, before darkening with his discovery of love for the girl, and the dawning recognition of his own nature. High-caliber ensemble performances and production values make this bittersweet journey through the world’s mysteries funny, poignant and genuinely haunting. * * * *

“The Scarecrow,” Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends July 15. $20-$23. (310) 822-8392. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Pacific Resident Theater