“Plainsong” is satisfyingly executed in nearly every conceivable way, culminating in a three-hankie third act — for being harrowing, then heartbreaking and finally for being just some kind of wonderful. It’s infused with old-fashioned heart but stays remarkably free of treacle and never shies from the underlying realities of small-town ignorance, hatred and violence.
At three hours, it’s long, but other than perhaps consolidating its two intermissions into one, there isn’t much to lose in a narrative that, admittedly, takes some getting used to. Eric Schmiedl’s fluid adaptation is remarkably faithful to the book — some might even say too faithful. With its ever-rotating narrators, the presentation seems at first more a staged reading of the book than a performed play. You wonder if we’re being cheated of action.
But it’s soon apparent that smart, meticulous decisions have been made about how best to convey every piece of this story so as to be true to a colorful swath of characters and interrelated stories, while keeping things manageable for the audience. Like a river, it flows when it needs to flow, and like a breeze, it breathes when it needs to breathe. Vicki Smith’s deceptively sparse and ever-shifting set plays an integral part in maintaining the staging’s remarkable flow, with pieces constantly shifting, sliding, rising and lowering.