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Dark & Stormy follows a family off the deep end

Sally Wingert and Sara Marsh

Sally Wingert and Sara Marsh

In And So It Goes, playwright George F. Walker gives us characters who aren't just at the ends of their ropes — they've lost their grips on them entirely. We watch the characters in freefall, wondering why their ropes were so short and whether there was anything they could have done to hold on. Now being presented by Dark & Stormy Productions (with North Star Theatricals and the Mount Curve Company) at the Grain Belt Warehouse, this 2010 play is the antithesis of an escapist summer romp.

And So It Goes

Grain Belt Studios
$29-$34; $15 for those under 30

Ned (Robert Dorfman) and Gwen (Sally Wingert), a married couple on the long side of middle age, are the parents of two adult children: a son who's absent and a daughter, Karen (Sara Marsh), who is deep in the throes of schizophrenia. They can't find solace in their work, as Ned's lost his job as a financial advisor and Gwen's most marketable skill is teaching Latin. It gets even worse: Their closest confidante is dead. That would be the author Kurt Vonnegut (James Craven), conjured by Gwen's imagination and soon lending an ear to Ned as well.

On the surface, And So It Goes is a family drama. As the addled and exasperated Karen slides into darkness, Ned struggles to start a new career and Gwen becomes increasingly wedded to her glass of brown liquor. They all sling snappy remarks at each other in an endless blame game, seemingly terrified to contemplate the possibility that their agonizing situation might not be anyone's fault. As the characters contemplate the capriciousness of destiny, the play evokes existential questions.

It's a bleak scenario, but Walker keeps the action light-footed with acerbic humor and rapid scene changes, fluidly negotiated by the confident cast under the direction of Benjamin McGovern. With the assistance of Mary Shabatura's dynamic lighting, the show manages our attention so deftly that characters and props seem to appear virtually out of thin air despite the close quarters of the in-the-round staging.

The cast are completely at ease with these deeply uneasy characters, to the point that it's frightening to watch them as they skate off the rails. Walker doesn't often allow the family members to show vulnerability, but Dorfman has an affecting moment alone as he faces a tragic development. We see just how hard it's become for this couple to truly open up to one another. No wonder they need an imaginary friend.

And So It Goes isn't for everyone. The plot is simple and sad, the characters struggle to find meaning in their lives, and even their attempts at pithy quips fall short of Vonnegut's (as he's on hand to acknowledge). It's a strong staging of a play that asks hard questions about life and fate, with characters who are terrified that they might have discovered the unwelcome answers.

IF YOU GO:

And So It Goes
Artspace at Grain Belt Warehouse
77 13th Ave. NE, Studio 202, Minneapolis
Through June 25; 612-724-5685