“Every Brilliant Thing” at Kinetic Theater Company

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Content transparency: this post includes mention of depression and suicide.

In the minutes before the show Every Brilliant Thing proper begins, actor Marcus Weiss darts among the audience handing out yellow post-it notes. Mine says “995. Bubble wrap”; my theater-going partner has “2. Water fights.” On the walls around us there are more post-its: “Free parking on Sundays”; “Sand between my toes”; “Fresh cup of coffee”; “Cats watch out the window and chirp at the birds.” 

These are a few of the many – as it turns out, more than a million – “brilliant things” that constitute an important list for the narrator Weiss plays: a list of things that make life worth living. He began this list, he tells us, as a 7-year old boy, in the aftermath of his mother’s first attempt at suicide (hence “1. Ice cream; 2. Water fights”). The story he tells is poignant and tragic: it’s a story of his coping and hoping, of his lingering trauma from being raised by a clinically depressed parent, and of his long road to healing, partly through his on again off again commitment to building his list of every brilliant thing there is. But it’s also a story filled with optimism and lightheartedness, due both to playwright Duncan Macmillan’s comic writing and Weiss’s disarming performance style.

Marcus Weiss. Photo by Richard Brusky, courtesy of Vegas Theatre Company.

A good deal of the comedy of the performance comes from the audience’s participation and Weiss’s improvised responses to what audience members say and do. The post-it notes play an important role in this participation: when he calls out the number on a post-it, the audience member reads out the item, often in ways that surprise and delight. A few members of the audience are asked to help in more substantial ways, by playing, for example, a vet who comes to euthanize the narrator’s dog; or the narrator’s father; or “Sam,” the person he ends up marrying. Each iteration of the show will, of course, be different, depending on who Weiss selects for the various roles: for example, on opening night, one audience member unexpectedly added some information to the item on his post-it note, and another – chosen to play the school counselor who uses a sock dog to encourage the narrator to share his feelings about his mother – clearly had some experience in a therapeutic setting, which made the improvised encounter unexpectedly tender and sweet. 

Weiss is a winning performer as the narrator, nimble, quick, and preternaturally present to the room. He not only has excellent comic timing, but also shifts from boisterous and upbeat to introspective and sad in the blink of an eye. The space is configured in the round, and director Andrew Paul has Weiss in near constant motion so that it never feels as if he has his back to anyone. Moreover, Weiss so quickly establishes a sense of trust and connection with the audience that even those who loathe audience participation will find themselves willing to play along (although if that describes you, I advise not sitting in the front row).

Every Brilliant Thing is a show that is as informative as it is entertaining. You may learn, for example, that suicide can be contagious, a fact that has been known for centuries (a famous example is the “Werther effect” after the publication of Goethe’s novel about a young man who kills himself over unrequited love); or that how the media reports on suicide has a direct impact on whether others will attempt to end their own lives. Every Brilliant Thing is also compassionate and candid about the fact that psychological struggle is a natural and normal part of the human condition: as the narrator says, if you’ve never felt crushingly depressed, then you probably haven’t been paying attention. But its overall message is a refreshingly uplifting gift: there are more than a million tangible and intangible things that make life worth living, and the list just keeps growing.

For example: “1,000,001. Finishing a blog post on a holiday afternoon.” 🙂

“Falsettos” at Front Porch Theatricals

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Meet the five Jews who comprise the central “family” in Falsettos: there’s Marvin (Chad Elder), a man who has left his wife Trina (Jenna Kantor) for a much younger male lover Whizzer (Sal Bucci); Marvin’s therapist Mendel (Justin Borak), who falls in love with Trina after Marvin divorces her, and Marvin and Trina’s young son Jason (Matthew Frontz), who – like his mom – is left grappling with the fact that his “father’s a homo.” 

L to R: Sal Bucci, Justin Borak, Chad Elder, Matthew Frontz, and Jenna Kantor. Photo by Martha Smith, courtesy Front Porch Theatricals

The year is 1979: the notion of a “chosen family” is not yet part of the mainstream vocabulary, but these five are trying to figure it out. Marvin, who is a selfish man-child, wants to continue to have a “tight knit family” even though the divorce has turned both Trina and Jason into neurotic messes; he tries to forge that family by including Whizzer in family dinners. But the tenuous balance is upended when Mendel marries Trina and becomes Jason’s new stepdad while Whizzer chafes against Marvin’s competitive power games. By the end of Act 1, Marvin is left alone to look on as his former therapist adopts his family and Whizzer enjoys the freewheeling lifestyle of a single gay man.

Act 2 fast-forwards a couple of years: it’s now 1981, Jason is preparing to celebrate his bar mitzvah, and Marvin and Whizzer reunite. The characters are joined by two new members of the extended family: Dr. Charlotte (Natalie Hatcher) and her lover Cordelia (Lindsay Bayer), who is a “shiksa caterer” trying way too hard to prepare Jewish food for the bar mitzvah (I’ll confess I misheard this lyric as “sexy caterer,” which was more than a little confusing; I have allmusicals.com to thank for clearing up that misunderstanding). Dr. Charlotte is our canary in the coal mine for the disease that is about to upend these characters’ lives: soon the robust and vibrant Whizzer is in hospital, dying of HIV/AIDS. His illness becomes the impetus for the chosen family to reunite, and for both Marvin and Jason to make the transition from boy to man – Marvin, through the crucible of grief, and Jason, through the celebration of his bar mitzvah among his cherished set of three fathers.

L to R: Matthew Frontz, Jenna Kantor, Justin Borak, Lindsay Bayer, Natalie Hatcher, Sal Bucci, & Chad Elder. Photo by Martha Smith, courtesy Front Porch Theatricals.

Falsettos is an odd musical structurally, its oddness partly explained by the fact that it was originally two one-act musicals – produced individually in 1981 and 1990 – that were knitted together in 1992 for a Broadway production. This explains both the tonal shift from Act 1 to Act 2 as well as the sudden appearance of two new characters after the intermission. The musical is also very fast (and at times almost frantically) paced, and because it’s fully sung through, it takes a lot of energy on the part of both the actors and audience to keep up. Some of the comedic lyrics fly by so fast that it takes a moment to register the joke: laugh too loud or too long, and you’ll miss the next one.

The Front Porch Theatricals ensemble brings verve and vitality to the production, which is directed by Rob James and choreographed by Ashley Harmon. Elder and Kantor anchor the emotional center of the story with conviction and heart; Bucci is winning as a carefree, somewhat catty gay man of the bathhouse era; and Borak and Frontz (who has terrific stage presence for a child actor) make a cute schlubby pair as the neurotic therapist and the introverted adolescent – they are particularly well-matched in the number “Everyone Hates his Parents.” Borak is also the comic star of the show, nailing the Woody Allen-esque combination of nervous insecurity and stubborn intelligence that the role requires. Deana Muro leads a “teeny tiny band” through a range of musical styles with precision and flair, and Johnmichael Bohach’s scenic design – which looks like a concrete foundation abandoned mid-pour – is animated in bright lines of red, blue, green, pink, and white by Andrew David Ostrowski’s lighting design. Costume designer Michelle Nowakowski evokes the late 70s and early 80s in all their cringe-y glory.  

“American Fast” at City Theatre

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In Kareem Fahmy’s new play American Fast, the protagonist, Khady (Tara Touzie), is a college basketball star in her senior year who is hoping to lead her team to a March Madness championship victory. She’s also a non-religious Muslim who has spent much of her life appeasing her devout mother by seeming to be observant of religious customs and obligations. The play’s dilemma crops up around the obligation to fast for Ramadan, which also coincides with the month of the championship basketball tournament. Khady plans to do as she has in the past – not actually fast while letting her mother think she is doing so – but those plans are derailed by her coach – who whips up a lot of PR around Khady’s status as a first female Muslim basketball star – and her mother – who unexpectedly comes to town to help her manage fasting while playing the tournament. Khady finds herself suddenly obligated not only to observe a religious ritual she doesn’t fully believe in, but also – through the magic of social media – to stand as a model representative and symbol for young Muslim women around the world.

You know from the beginning that this will not go well, mainly because the play starts with its four characters – Khady, her mother Suzan (Deena Aziz), her Coach (Hilary Ward), and her boyfriend Gabe (Terry Bell) – trying to help her get back in the good graces of an unseen “provost” sitting in the audience who wants to remove Khady from the team because someone has graffitied “Khady Salama doesn’t believe in anything” on the side of the university’s brand-new multi-million dollar athletic facility. The action then jumps back in time to tell us what happened to put Khady into that pressure-cooker of a mess, most of which stems from a toxic combination of Khady’s driving ambition to be number one on the court and her fear of disappointing anyone, especially her mother. Those two character traits lead her to lie and keep secrets until her lies and secrets blow up her life. 

L to R: Terry Bell, Tara Touzie, Deena Aziz, and Hilary Ward. Photo by Kristi Jan Hoover, courtesy City Theatre.

Note that I said the action jumps back in time to tell (rather than show) us what happened. Fahmy is better at writing soliloquies than believable dialogue, and he plays to his strengths by having a good deal of the story delivered as direct-address monologues. I don’t know if the script also calls for the actors to repeatedly stand still downstage in spotlights while they talk to us, but the overall effect of director Jennifer Chang’s rather static staging is that it begs the question of why the script needs much more than a staged reading, other than to showcase Britton Mauk’s unexpectedly flexible set and Kaitlyn Pietras’s illuminating projection design. 

I suspect this is a play that will land differently for viewers depending on their own relationship to religious identity and religiosity. Some may be most interested in its exploration of how the acceptance or rejection of religion can divide children from parents; others may be more drawn to its sensitive depiction of the various forms Muslim identity can take. The play was most compelling to me in the moments when it focused on how Khady comes to be seduced (or maybe a better word is pressured) into believing herself to be a Muslim role model, and then allows that to feed her already overly-large ego and ambitions. The god of social media leads her to lose sight of who she really is and what she really cares about, and it’s when she starts lying to herself that she fully loses her way.

“Young Americans” at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre

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In a controversial 1975 interview, David Bowie characterized his song “Young Americans” as being “about a newly-wed couple who don’t know if they really like each other. Well, they do, but they don’t know if they do or don’t. It’s a bit of a predicament.” But that explanation is a bit flippant: in the song, a pair of young lovers get married, have babies and then quickly become disillusioned with their conventional lives, wondering, “all the way from Washington,” if “we live for just these twenty years do we have to die for the fifty more?” It’s a song that traces both the particular hopes and dreams associated with being young and American from an outsider’s perspective, and the social and political realities that operate to quash and disappoint those hopes and dreams.

Lauren Yee’s new play Young Americans takes both inspiration and detail from Bowie’s song. The action centers on two road trips, about twenty years apart, both of which trace a route from Washington D.C. to Portland Oregon. One is taken by Joe (Danny Bernardo), an immigrant green-card holder who has driven to D.C. to pick up Jenny (Marielle Young), a woman from his (unspecified) home country whom he has arranged to marry. The other is taken by an older Joe with their adopted daughter Lucy (Sammy Rat Rios), after Joe surprises Lucy by picking her up in D.C. on her return from her junior study abroad semester in that same home country. On the first road trip, Joe and Jenny are not only Bowie’s “couple who don’t know if they really like each other,” they are also two people navigating their relationship with America and its aspirational self-styling as a land of opportunity and welcome. On the second trip, the father-daughter duo are also working out the predicament of “liking each other” as they navigate the generational differences in the immigrant experience. 

L to R: Danny Bernardo and Marielle Young. Photo by Jingzi Zhao, courtesy Pittsburgh Public Theater.

Both trips are opportunities for the members of the pairs to get to know each other better, and in the process the two parallel trips offer us the opportunity to gain insight into three different immigrant experiences of the American Dream. The play also explores how language, custom, and personal history not only divide immigrant parents from their first-gen children but also often render the parents a mystery to their offspring. Yee and director Desdemona Chiang employ a clever device to make this gap palpable: in the scenes in which Joe is in the car with his daughter, he speaks a heavily accented English and deploys a stereotyped gestural vocabulary, but when he is in the past, with Jenny, the two of them converse fluently in English (as a way of signaling that they are actually speaking in their shared native language) and have a relaxed body language. This has the effect of allowing us to see Joe, in particular, in two very different lights: his personality, and motivations, are much more accessible to us in the latter scenes, and we are able to see how much his lack of ability to fully express himself in English contributes to his daughter’s inability to connect with him and “get” him as a person.

The dual-language device also allows Yee to undercut assumptions and stereotypes about immigrants, and particularly about a woman like Jenny, who has made the choice to fly to the US and marry a stranger for a green card. Despite having lived a rather sheltered life in her country of origin, Jenny is smart, sophisticated, and surprisingly hip (both her wardrobe (costumes by Susan Tsu) and her musical tastes are on trend); while she doesn’t know a lot about living in America, she is in other respects far more savvy, capable, and flexible than the rule-bound and planning-obsessed Joe. They are a mismatched couple, but much like the woman in Bowie’s song, “she’d have taken anything…she wants the young American…” and Joe is her ticket to a life with choices. She is no passive victim of circumstances, as the stereotype of the mail-order-bride might have it, and by giving us access to their early negotiation into the relationship Yee lets us see how clear-eyed and courageous a woman like Jenny might be. And as in the Bowie song from which the play gets its title, she wants more, and in wanting more, she eventually helps both Joe and Lucy recognize their own American dreams.

“the fisherman, the butterfly, eve & her lover” at CorningWorks

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A challenge of conceiving the climate change crisis is that, unlike other events and problems, we can’t directly see or feel it, because there is no position from which to view it in its totality. To borrow from philosopher Timothy Morton, climate change is a “hyperobject,” something that is “massively distributed in time and space relative to humans”; that is, it’s happening all around us, all the time, at a pace and scale that defies direct perception. We can experience its effects – stronger storms, hotter heat waves, shrinking glaciers, etc. – but we can’t see or feel climate change, we can only see and perceive it through its effects (and, of course, there are many – too many – who would deny that what we see and perceive is an effect of climate change, but let’s not go there).

In her new eco-parable the fisherman, the butterfly, eve & her lover choreographer Beth Corning has come up with a resonant visual metaphor that niftily demonstrates how a thing can be real, and have effects, even when we can’t see it. At the top of the performance, a small wooden boat with a tiny figure sitting in it rests in the upstage left corner of the playing space. Over the course of the hour-plus performance, the boat moves imperceptibly across the stage, so slowly that even if you watch it carefully (as I did, several times, once I became aware that it had shifted position) you can’t see it move. And yet, move it does, winding up on the opposite end of the stage. Just as with climate change, the cause is imperceptible, but the effect is evident.

Nathan Keepers. Photo by Frank Walsh, courtesy CorningWorks

You’ll note that I wrote in that last paragraph “once I became aware that it had shifted position” – the metaphor, along with the production as a whole, also captures something about how we’re collectively putting our heads in the sand when it comes to dealing with climate change. Stage left is a platform covered with Amazon boxes where Eve (Jillian Hollis) and her lover (Evan Fisk) live in green overabundance, eagerly and excitedly opening packages so that they can repeatedly try on new things. Surrounded by more than they could ever use, they are distracted by consumption, and we, in turn, are distracted by them – by their romantic, lush movements – and fail to notice that the little boat is on the move. Stage right is the sparse home of the lonely Fisherman (Nathan Keepers), who has nothing but his stories and a tiny pet fish to keep him company. He lives in a world in which sand has taken the place of water; in one of the piece’s most poignant moments, he gives the bulk of a found bottle of water to keep his little fish alive. In the middle is a large sand-covered space where the Fisherman “fishes” and the lovers cavort; it’s also where the Butterfly (Beth Corning) flits and floats, bewildered by the changed state of the world. Is she the apocryphal butterfly whose flap of a wing can change the weather half a world away, or merely another species struggling to survive in a waterless environment? She, too, seems eager to find a way to deny what’s right in front of her eyes, planting a bed of fake flowers in a block of Styrofoam to create a spring garden.

As the boat moves from the lovers’ “paradise” of overconsumption to the ascetic isolation of the fisherman’s world, it also connects the dots: the one (overconsumption, heedless distraction) leads to the other (ecological devastation). It’s a grim parable, and one that we ignore at our peril.

“Steel Magnolias” at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre

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“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion” confesses salon owner Truvy (Robyne Parrish) toward the end of Robert Harling’s play Steel Magnolias. That could also well be the motto of the Pittsburgh Public Theatre production, which keeps the laughs coming even as the plot tugs at the heartstrings.

Robyne Parrish in Steel Magnolias. Photo by Michael Menninger, courtesy Pittsburgh Public Theatre

You may be familiar with the material via the 1989 film that was made based on Harling’s play. The action, which centers on a set of women living in small-town Chinquapin Parrish, Louisiana, takes place in Truvy’s salon (a women’s space in teals and curlicues, set design by Anne Mundell) where, as the play opens, a new stylist, Annelle (Saige Smith), has just been hired. Truvy needs the help, because it’s about to be a busy day: one of her regular customers, Shelby (Kyra Kennedy), is getting married, and she and her mother M’Lynn (Monica Wyche) and their friends Clairee (Elizabeth Elias Huffman) and Ouiser (Helena Ruoti) all need their hair done in preparation for the wedding. Both wedding prep and newcomer Annelle give Harling opportunity to frontload exposition and backstory – we learn, in the first scene, that Shelby’s groom Jackson loves to hunt and lives by the Southern values of “shoot it, stuff it, or marry it”; that Clairee, as a widow of the former mayor, is a town powerbroker; that M’Lynn helps provide services to the mentally ill and has confiscated her husband’s gun to keep him from continuing to chase off the local birds; that Truvy has a couch-potato husband and two grown kids; that Ouiser is perennially in a bad mood; and – most importantly – that “my favorite color is pink” Shelby is a type 1 diabetic who has been counselled against getting pregnant. Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you probably know what’s coming.

L to R: Saige Smith and Kyra Kennedy. Photo by Michael Henninger, courtesy Pittsburgh Public Theatre

The rest of the plot unspools over the next couple of years, as holidays, seasons, and life events flow through the salon, and the women’s friendships develop and deepen through changes and challenges. Harling’s writing is sharp and witty, and the cast deploys a range of Southern accents to capture the wit and sting of his lines (Don Wadsworth was the dialect coach). While Ruoti, as the sourpuss of the group, gets some of the best zingers (she had my favorite line of the evening: “I don’t see plays ‘cuz I can nap at home for free”), there is comedy spread across the board, and all of the performers have terrific timing and delivery. The characters are clearly delineated; a strength of both the play and production (directed by Marya Sea Kaminski) is the idiosyncratic life given to each of the women. Wyche brings a nice dryness to her portrayal of M’Lynn; Parrish is charismatic as the de facto host of the festivities; and Smith is winning as the wide-eyed newcomer Annelle. Huffman can at times be hard to understand, but her characterization of Clairee feels spot-on, as does Kennedy’s portrayal of the sweet, generous, but at times a little spiky Shelby. The ensemble’s clear ease and joy in each other’s company spills over into the production, making for a satisfying evening with a group of fierce, sassy, there-for-each-other women.

“Native Gardens” at City Theatre

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Perhaps the most troubling thing about living in our current political climate is the impression that there seems to be no capacity for compromise or finding middle ground anymore. If you look at the heated rhetoric on both sides of the political spectrum, you can’t help but imagine that disagreements small and large are making it impossible to engage in civil conversation, let alone live in community together and find shared values. But are we as impossibly polarized as the pundits would have us be?

Playwright Karen Zacarías seems not to think so. In her comedy Native Gardens she gives us two couples who divide fairly neatly along familiar fault lines. Pablo and Tania Del Valle (Juan Rivera Lebron and Evelyn Hernandez) are a young married couple who have just bought a fixer-upper in a tony Georgetown neighborhood. She is a very pregnant PhD student and he is an up-and-coming lawyer; they are both Latinx, but with very different backgrounds – he is an immigrant from Chile who was born with a silver spoon, and she hails from a middle-class family that has generations of roots in New Mexico. Their new neighbors are Frank and Virginia Butley (Cotter Smith and Laurie Klatscher), a well-off white couple who have lived in the neighborhood for decades, and who take great pride in their immaculate and well-kept home and garden. The Venn diagram that captures the lifestyles and interests of these two couples has a very small sliver of overlap – they share a fence between their back yards, both Frank and Tania love to garden, and both Pablo and Virginia were the first or only of their category in their respective workplaces. What falls outside that overlap is significant – besides the fact that they are of different races and different generations, there is also the different approach to gardening (Frank is into herbicides, Tania is an organic farmer; Frank fills his garden beds with carefully arranged European cultivars, Tania proposes to let a native landscape proliferate) as well as different political affiliations (the Butleys are Republicans and the Del Valles are Democrats, of course).

L to R: Juan Rivera Lebron, Cotter Smith, Laurie Klatscher, and Evelyn Hernandez. Photo by Kristi Jan Hoover, courtesy City Theatre.

The play’s main conflict comes when Tania and Pablo ask if they can replace an eyesore chain link fence that divides the two yards with a nicer wooden fence (Tony Ferrieri’s excellent scenic design tells you at a glance everything you need to know about the history of these two houses and yards). At first Frank is thrilled, because he believes that his repeated failure to win the neighborhood garden competition has been due to the ugly fence. But things turn sour when a property survey reveals that the fence is actually not on the property line, and that Frank’s garden extends two feet into the Del Valle yard. Despite Tania’s best efforts to keep things calm and civil, the dispute over the property line quickly devolves into farcical acrimony. It also becomes a (at times overly spelled out) metaphor for white supremacy and colonialism: whether or not the Butleys were aware that they had annexed a portion of the previous owner’s property, their reluctance now to acknowledge the misappropriation and return the stolen land is a clear stand-in for colonialism’s signature move.

Zacarías’s writing is at its best, and funniest, when it takes digs at the kind of self-serving rationalizations we all indulge in to justify actions or attitudes we know are morally suspect – as, for example, when the wealthy Butleys convince themselves that they can invoke “squatters’ rights” to make a legal claim to the disputed area of the yard. Such moments give insight into the mechanisms of righteousness that fuel polarization, and show how people devolve into hypocrisy without even being fully aware of it. The four actors are particularly fine at keeping those moments sincere and maintaining the characters’ three-dimensionality even as they descend into a childish peevishness; they never let us lose sight of the fact that these four people would really prefer to live in a world with less, rather than more, conflict.

Indeed, what’s particularly welcome – and feels “real” – about this play is that all of the characters really do want to be “good” and maintain cordial relations, even as they continually put their own interests first and thereby escalate the conflict. The problem the play sets up, and solves (at least for itself) is: how do you put that desire for community and cordiality first, and meet in the middle? It takes something of a deus ex machina (or maybe I should say: infantem ex matris) to bring them back to their adult senses, but in the end, compromise brings them all what they desire. 

“Is God Is” at barebones productions

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What do you get when you cross a modern-day instance of brutal domestic violence with the mythic revenge plots of ancient Greek tragedy and then add in a dash of Pulp Fiction-esque violence?

You get something like Aleshea Harris’s play Is God IsThe play opens on a pair of two young Black women, twins Anaia (Sarai Quinice) and Racine (Shannon Williams). They describe a terrible fire that killed their mother when they were young girls and left them both with painful scars – Racine on her shoulder and neck, and Anaia across her face – and also sent them into a series of abusive foster home situations. But then a letter arrives, from their mother (Kim El, moving and also surprisingly hilarious in the role) – whom they call “God,” because she created them – who is not dead, but now dying, and who summons them to her nursing home. She commands them to exact revenge on the abusive bastard who set them all on fire: “Make your dad dead…make him real dead…all the way dead. Lots of blood is fine.”

L to R: Kim El, Sarai Quinice, and Shannon Williams. Photo courtesy barebones productions.

So begins their grotesque journey of revenge, which takes them west, first to extract intel from the lawyer (Garbie Dukes) who got their father off scot-free, and then to the upscale home in the California hills where dad (played by director Javon Johnson) lives with his new family: wife Angie (Kelsey Robinson), an angsty, privileged bird yearning to escape her gilded cage, and twin teenaged sons Riley (Kivon Reeves) and Scotch (Todd Griffin, a comic standout in the ensemble), self-absorbed and navel-gazing, as kids of that age tend to be. Along the way Racine fashions a weapon out of a rock and a sock that gets bloodier and bloodier as the play goes on (fight direction by Randy Kovitz), in obedience to their mother’s injunction to inflict as much physical and emotional damage on their father as they can.

Stylistically, the play is a pastiche of tropes and techniques from both film and theater: chapter headings that appear on a television elevated above the stage gesture both to the use of screen titles in films like Inglorious Basterds, and to the Brechtian use of scene titles on stage; characters narrate their own stories in a way that is both like a film voice over and like the commentary of a Greek chorus; and the set – which has a rectangular hole in the wall, with curtains that reveal what is behind it – makes you feel like you are simultaneously watching characters on a screen and in a puppet show. Tonally, the play requires a range of registers, from the kind of deadpan comedy-violence of a Tarantino film to the howling anguish of a Euripidean tragedy. The ever-reliable Steve Tolan helps to establish the antic mayhem with suitably gory and outrageous special effects, but on opening night the ensemble seemed to still be navigating the play’s tonal complexities. 

Like any good revenge plot, the play has you rooting for the girls to succeed with their mission, even as they commit acts of violence that are both horrifying and sometimes unwarranted. The real surprise of this play comes at the end, when you realize that where it has been heading, all along, is to show that Euripides had it right: in a world in which there is no justice through law, cycles of violence get passed down, repeating endlessly through generations.