"Folk" hums a soft tune at Chester Theatre Company

CHESTER — The setting for Tom Wells' "Folk" — which is having its American premiere in a low-key, well-tempered production at Chester Theatre Company — is a snug parish house in the Yorkshire seaside village of Withernsea that is home for Sister Winnie (Michele Tauber who possesses a wide toothy smile that could power a city), a fiftysomething Irish nun who loves her Guinness and her folk music. She has steady company in a fiftysomething maintenance worker named Stephen (an affecting and poignant Michael Sean McGuinness), a somewhat shy, closeted (in a variety of ways), gentle soul who lives with his father and shares Sister Winnie's love of Guinness and folk music, to the point that they get together every Friday night for some music-making, camaraderie and a good pint or two.

They are joined, unexpectedly, one Friday evening by a brash, 15-year-old, brick-throwing girl named Kayleigh (Emery Henderson in a polite, well-mannered performance), a former pupil of Winnie's who carries a heavy load of chips on her shoulders.

She is a wounded, angry, resentful soul who fends for herself, has dropped out of school school, lives by her wits and considerable mental resources, and has no parental figures in her life. Her mother is dead; her father is out of the picture and her her step-dad, isn't "fussed" about her welfare, she says. Death also has claimed her friend, Jason, who was killed in a car crash and has left her pregnant.

Indeed, it turns out that Kayleigh is not the only one in "Folk" who is concerned with mortality.

The kind-hearted Winnie invites Kayleigh to join Stephen and she on their Friday soirees. As the music plays, familial bonds form.

Director James Warwick and his cast keep all this at a low, even keel. "Folk" invites neither surprise nor melodrama. It does, however, invite a more robust, infectious spirit than is evident within the confines of Chester's season-ending theater-in-the-round setting in a cautious production in which less is, well, less.

Reach Jeffrey Borak at 413-496-6212


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