When a 15 year old boy leaves home with a gun, heads out to kill as many people as he can, say, at, a Planned Parentood clinic, and then kills himself, who should take the blame? The child himself? The father who deserted his young son and wife? The mother who, working two jobs, didn’t have time to give the boy the attention he needed? The very religious and staunchly Pro-Life neighbor who took the boy to church against his mother’s wishes? Or perhaps the people of small town Greenville, Delaware where “everybody knows everybody” and everybody knew from the start that that family just didn’t fit in.
It’s years later, and Silvia (Pauline Lamb) and her wife Cat (Rachel Manteuffel) are looking for their dream house, far away from the environs of DC,. where they now work (Cat telecommutes, and Silvia is self-employed). They discover a beautiful five-bedroom house on an acre of land, at a surprisingly affordable price. It is, of course, the house where the young murderer grew up.
Fanny, the realtor, assumes the two are just more “goths and weirdos” wanting only to see inside the house where the teenage killer once lived. But Silvia loves the house. It’s far bigger than anything they could afford in DC, and is perfect for raising the children she hopes to have with Cat.
They buy it, and then their troubles begin. The officious and self-important Mayor (Tracy Roberts) wants to have the place torn down, lest it become a perpetual reminder of the town shame (and attract “crime tours”). She has even gone as far as to fly in Dave Sullivan (Robert Heinly), who manages to make a good living assessing the harm of “tragic homes” on a community. In the meantime Lisa (Hilary Kelly), who shares Cat’s passion for progressive causes, wants to turn the home into a memorial to the people at Planned Parenthood who were butchered by the young boy.
Playwright John Bavoso unrolls two stories moving forward, one in the present, and the other, the life of Loretta (Rebecca Dreyfuss) and her doomed, damned son Kristofer, in the few years leading up to the shootings. The stories play out in the same living room and director Ryan Maxwell has the meshed scenes timed out perfectly. Loretta and Kristofer have a friendly talk before heading out the front door as the house tour ends and Fanny leads her potential buyers down the stairs. Cat settles down on the couch to watch TV; Kristofer sits down next to her and picks up the remote to change the channel. The technique is unusual but not unprecedented; Bruce Norris used it to great effect at the conclusion of Clybourne Park, and Robert O’Hara used it beautifully in Antebellum.
closes November 11, 2018
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Bavoso salts his play with conflict and unresolved questions. Prime among them, of course, is whether Cat and Silvia will lose the house; but the conflict which rockets Loretta and Kristofer to their destinations is equally gripping, even though we know where it is going to go. Cat and Silvia’s relationship is equally prone to unraveling, and there is a high degree of tension among the townspeople not fully explained until the end. Lisa, in particular, is at war with next-door neighbor Craig (Brian Crane, superbly portraying a man who is the soul of sweetness — until he is not), whose religiosity she blames for the shooting. Even Sullivan, seemingly the reasonable man, has a few secrets of his own.
That’s a load of work for a two hour play to carry, but Bavoso and his cast make it work by installing their characters with complexity and depth. These are human beings, prone to error and capable of greatness, just like us, and so sympathetic and even sacred.
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Thomas Shuman gives an outstanding performance as Kristofer, the lonely, loner kid who, his own family torn apart, latches onto the next best thing, the family living next door. The 15 year old’s futile attempts to get attention from his exhausted and distracted mother are heartbreaking.
Despite the affection they showed each other, I had a hard time believing, at first, that Cat and Silvia were a loving couple. The peremptory aggressiveness that Silvia showed Cat belied their love; had Silvia been a man, I think we would have thought him to be a bully, even misogynistic. Ironically, it is when Silvia and Cat are drawn into conflict that the loving nature of their relationship became clear; the conflict Bavoso crafts for them is the kind of conflict only people who love each other could have.
You’ll not soon forget actor Dannielle Hutchinson as the truth-telling realtor Fanny. Bavoso has given her some of his funniest lines, and she nails every one of them. In fact, despite the fraught subject matter, Bavoso has crafted a surprisingly funny play. Fanny is the least friendly real estate agent in human history, and her cynical byplay with Dave (who may be her part-time lover) occasionally takes the paint off the wall. Silvia’s caustic ripostes — to her wife as well as her antagonists — are also dead-on, as she careens through the territory somewhere between Barefoot in the Park and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
But ultimately this is a story about loss — loss of life, loss of the promise of life, loss of relationship, loss of love, loss of history, loss of community — as a surprise twist at the end of the play movingly shows. We may judge — there’s plenty of judgment going on in this play — but the value of life trumps judging. The Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote: “With every man who dies, there dies with him his first snowfall, his first kiss, his first fight. He takes it all with him.” We can tear down a building, but we can’t tear down who we are. Nor should we. The gaps between us may be vast. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t build a bridge and cross it.
Blight by John Bavoso . Directed by Ryan Maxwell . Featuring Pauline Lamb, Rachel Manteuffel, Dannielle Hutchinson, Jacqueline Chenault, Robert Heinly, Hilary Kelly, Brian Crane, Rebecca Dreyfuss and Thomas Shuman . Scenic Design: PJ Carbonell . Lighting Design: Katie McCreary . Sound Design: Crescent Haynes . Properties and Set Dressing: Katherine Offutt . Intimacy Director: Emily Sucher . Dramaturg: Lauren Chapman . Stage Manager: Sam Rollins, assisted by Annette Wasno . Produced by Karen Lange for Pinky Swear Productions . Reviewed by Lorraine Treanor.
Note: John Bavoso writes for DC Theatre Scene and I am his editor. While I became the reviewer for this play due to an emergency, I am comfortable that my position did not pose a conflict in critiquing the work.