Daisy in the Dreamtime

Presented by Abingdon Theatre Company at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex Mainstage Theatre, 312 W. 36 St., NYC, March 12-30.

Like the Aboriginal people that it dramatizes, "Daisy in the Dreamtime" is noble, profound, and spiritual. A stirring new work by Lynne Kaufman, the period piece reminds audiences once again of the rarely heeded lessons that history has to offer: when a native people are infiltrated by Christian missionaries, government officials, and technological progress, they ultimately end up victims of so-called civilization, which brings many advances, but, at the same time, wipes out their indigenous way of life.

Director Kim T. Sharp brings the early decades of the last century vividly to life with this poignant presentation of the true-life account of Daisy Bates. An Irish immigrant, Daisy (Molly Powell) is devoted to the Australian tribe she has chosen to chronicle and cohabitate with, in particular her friend, King Billy (Jerome Preston Bates). But when German missionary Annie Lock (Jodie Lynn McClintock) and her religious group arrive bearing food, education, and housing, Bates realizes that her people's uncomplicated way of life is in danger of becoming extinct.

Powell and McClintock display intelligent intensity and gritty determination in their portrayals. As King Billy, Bates evokes the inner strength of the Aboriginal people. Michael Chaban makes a rugged romantic counterpart for Powell, Pamela Paul is affecting as her inspirational grandmother, and Larry Swansen provides levity as a pretentious professor.

Kaufman's script is taut, touching, and thought-provoking, making the historical account realistic and relevant. Sharp and choreographer Karen Azenberg cleverly incorporate a pair of expressive dancers (Afra Hines and Carey Macaleer) to suggest the elements, both natural and manmade.

Also worthy of praise are the technical team members who have helped create the mystical tone of the production. James F. Wolk's scenic design captures the essence of the Australian prairie with earth-toned scrims, superbly and subtly lit by David Castaneda. Susan Scherer created the early-20th-century fashions, reflecting both high society and primitive cultures.