Spotlight: Tallgrass Gothic

Courtesy of Emigrant Theater

This heartland infidelity drama by Melanie Marnich renders passion and violence in stark, unforgiving colors. We first see long-suffering wife Laura (Maren Bush) with new lover Daniel (Ryan Lindberg), but soon enough it's back to the marital bed with her sexually controlling and abusive husband (Nicholas Harazin). References to small-town America abound in Jason Brown's set: Straw litters the floor and hay bales make up the single bed. The lovers meet for assignations on a disembodied car seat. One palpably senses the spiritual claustrophobia of provincial life in a terrific church scene, with the worshippers checking each other out and giving voice to their innermost thoughts in spoken asides. Soon enough things turn lethal, as they tend to do in books and plays (not quite soon enough, actually; the homicidal plot twist comes after a brief lull). Under Jessica Finney's intelligent direction, the young cast offers surprising interpretations of Marnich's barbed and unpredictable dialogue. The characters themselves are only partly formed, the actors suggest; these folks are playing roles of their own. Bush and Lindberg are fresh-faced and good-looking, and they depict lovers whose connection comes and goes like a radio signal on some remote homestead. Bush, the linchpin of the work, gives in to a dangerous fecklessness while hiding the painful vulnerability of a fantasist. She also gets groped and knocked around quite a bit in the span of these 85 minutes--it's a physical show that way--and her scenes with Harazin are full of all sorts of squirm-inducing dynamics. Laura's friend Mary (Kari Kelly) provides commentary from her booze-and-cigarette haze, generally embodying a rural milieu in which alcohol, pills, and primal sexual politics are the main items on the menu. Finally buddy Filene (Jeffrey Wolf) intercedes on Laura's behalf, in a series of spectacularly ill-conceived (off-stage) actions. In the end, our heroine's once-limited choices dwindle to none, as we sensed they would.

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