Work in slow progress

The sounds are great, but the sights are meager in Lyric Stage's Cather County

The female performers, who with one exception exist solely to react against these male ciphers, get an even rawer deal. Despite their winning vocal performances, Pamela Doherty, Dara Whitehead, Lori Evanson, and Kelley Murphy are slight variations on the same lovelorn-frontier-gal formula. Diane Guthrie gets a juicy grand dame role as the opera singer with a past, but her situation is introduced rather inexplicably to provide some purpose for Jay's presence besides wanton flirtation.

Spend enough time speculating about the ephemeral qualities of Cather County, and you're finally left to ask: Is Willa Cather really the best choice for a musical stage interpretation? She had an epic, rowdy vision, but it was mostly achieved through stunning descriptive passages and a sense of how national yearnings parallel personal ones. Stripped of her agility as a wordsmith, her plots and themes are fairly pedestrian, or at least they're rendered so on the live stage. A few pretty melodies aren't enough to rescue the trivialization of a great American writer's ideas.

Cather County runs through February 21. Call (972)252-2787.

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