by Beki Pineda
LAND OF MILK AND HONEY – Written by Jeff Neuman; Directed by Amanda Berg-Wilson. Produced by The Catamounts (presented at Shoenberg Farms, 5578 West 72nd Place, Westminster) through June 27. Tickets available at 720-468-0487 or TheCatamounts.org.
Never a group to let a pandemic slow them down or the logistics of a situation stifle their creativity, Catamounts has once again brought an interesting story to the public in an unusual format. In a walk-around immersive sort of way, they tell the story of the work that Louis Shoenberg did at the turn of the century Denver. In grief over the death of his son Dudley from tuberculosis, Louis found ways to help one of the leading sanatoriums treating tuberculosis and lung diseases, National Jewish Hospital. He originally bought 70 acres at the corner of what is now 72nd and Sheridan and created a diary, chicken ranch and large farm so that he could supply the hospital with fresh milk, eggs, and vegetables.
As the audience walks from place to place on the site, they become different characters in the same play. We became trustees of National Jewish as we tour the diary barn and view the museum quality artifacts still present. Then in another room, we are members of the school board of the immigrant school set up on the grounds; then visitors to one of the wards to chat with Ruth, a recovering patient from Chicago. My group next became fledgling cow hands as we learned how to treat the animals on the farm and visitors to Dolly Madison’s society salon where she introduced us to her special brand of ice cream. After a few more stops, we returned back to the dairy barn for a final Shiva ceremony for Dudley conducted by his father.
As in most of the interactive performances I have attended, there is always a sort of tentativeness as the audience is trying to figure out what is expected of them and the actors are trying to figure out how to gently control the situation without being too pushy. There was a little bit of this going on, but for the most part, the actors were able to steer the audience in the right direction while in the various locations around the farm. Having farm guides to lead us from place to place was also very helpful and kept the smaller groups from colliding with one another. The actors in the various rooms – inside and out – created their character with stories and bits of advice about living and working on a farm, each illustrating a different way the Shoenberg family helped their community through philanthropy and agriculture. Each segment is concise and clearly depicting a chapter from the history of the farm. A cast of six became a living history book taking on a multitude of stories to tell.
Residents of the area who are curious about the old buildings will be pleased to learn of the history; the friend who attended with me is a former employee and got a kick out of checking out the buildings; historians, family members of tuberculosis survivors, and everyone who loves a good story will enjoy this journey into the past.
A WOW factor of 8.5!!