Blood may be thicker than water, but if anything can sever a family bond, years of inbreeding and brutal violence will certainly do the trick. In his play, Raising Cane, Stephen Cedars tells the story of one family in particular, whose peculiar ceremonies and unconventional moral code often lead to disastrous and disturbingly amusing results.
Set in an unnamed southern commune of sorts, Queen (Sara Bickler) rules over an incestuous clan of dirt-laden, barefoot locals who answer dutifully to her twisted commands. Bearing pitchforks, frying pans and straw brooms, they display their loyalty to Queen and to family tradition by engaging in vicious physical brawls against each other. Yet once these “tournaments” turn deadly, dissenters gradually emerge, threatening both the “family way” and the empire to which Queen has literally given birth. Thus, more backwoods chaos ensues.
Stephen Cedars writes a delightfully nuanced play, the twangy dialect and almost biblical language giving the piece a folkloric feel and adding to its unexpected charm. The characters, while typical backwoods stereotypes, are also three dimensional, their angst and spiritual instinct often bubbling to the surface. “How far left to fall sweet Lord?” bemoans Lucy (played with vulnerability by Shaina Higgins) at the thought of a forced inbred pregnancy. Likewise Grewl’s (Erin Gallalee) renderings of such gospel hymns as “Jesus Loves Me” (on the kazoo no less) further lend to the play’s religious undertone and satirical edge. Also memorable is Sara Bickler’s cunning portrayal of Queen, a manipulative character audiences both detest and enjoy.
But perhaps most notable are the play’s cringe-worthy fight sequences choreographed by Fight Director, Carl Brandt Long (also cast as Billy). Consuming over half of the play’s total running time, the brawls alone are worth the cost of a ticket.
Though the play’s crude language and overtly violent nature nearly distract from the storyline, Raising Cane is not without a solid plot and, dare I say, heartwarming message. It is, after all, a play about a family seeking to maintain some sense of unity within their secluded little world. Yes, their methods are unusual, loathsome even, but their intentions are inherently good and thus relateable to the audience.
“Ain’t no easy talk to be true to one’s roots these days” Queen pontificates, acutely aware of the importance of bloodlines and kinship. “Family ought to be together.” Thus a purpose exists behind their bizarre antics whether we “regular folk” approve of their culture or not. The characters in this story are just doing the best they know how. And in that respect, are we really any different?
Directed ever so precisely by Christine Lange, Raising Caine is by far one of Capital Fringe’s guiltiest pleasures. Indulge if you dare.
Raising Cane: A Family Portrait has 5 performances, ending July 28, 2012, at Redrum at Fort Fringe, 612 L Street NW, Washington, DC.
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Victoria rates this 4 out of 5.
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