Thursday, September 20, 2001
If home is the place where they have to take you in, then family are the people who have to open the door for you. Whether that''s a good thing depends on the family and people involved.
For Val, the matriarch in Keith Reddin''s dramatic comedy, Brutality of Fact, home and family are a mixed blessing.
To say the least, Val''s family is dysfunctional. To begin with, Val''s (Neva Hahns) memory is starting to slip--she''s doing things like putting her tennis shoes in the vegetable crisper. Out of kindness, apparently, her daughter Jackie (Virginia August), a devout Jehovah''s Witness, has taken her in. Val''s other daughter, Maggie (Deirdre McCauley), the black sheep of the family, is just beginning to come to grips with her alcoholism. Maggie has been so absent from the lives of her family that Jackie has told her mother Maggie is dead. Imagine Val''s surprise when, near the beginning of the play, she encounters Maggie meeting Jackie in a coffee shop.
Toss in the menfolk: Jackie''s ex-husband, the good-time, womanizing Harold (Conrad Selvig) who has custody of their daughter Marlene (Caitlin Elise Smith), and her new love interest Chris (Chris Heimer), a lawyer and by-the-book church-man who is perfectly willing to exploit Jackie''s weakness.
Essentially Brutality follows the life trajectories of Jackie and Maggie. On the surface, at least, Jackie seems to have her life together. She''s a "Watchtower"-toting, fisherperson-of-neighbors who goes door-to-door spreading the word of God while maintaining a spotless home, despite Val''s inherent sloppiness. Maggie, on the other hand, lives her life one drink to the next. Even though she recognizes she has a drinking problem, she finds consorting with Alcoholics Anonymous a fate worse than daily hangovers. Her job is on the line, and her personal life is a train wreck.
Maggie hits rock bottom one night when she runs into Harold in a bar and, under the influence of too much booze and sentimental music, sleeps with him. But while the incident marks the nadir of Maggie''s story arc, it propels Jackie to the zenith of her story: Using the incident as proof of Harold''s parental unsuitability, Jackie is able to wrest custody of Marlene from him.
Caught in the middle is feisty mama Val, who copes with the situation as best she can, using a variety of shock tactics and passive-aggressive tactics to keep Jackie from becoming too smug and satisfied. Neva Hahns shines in the role, giving us just enough of a peek beneath Val''s surface that we know she''s more than just a doddering little old woman. She might be in a war of wills that she cannot win, but she isn''t going down without firing a few salvos of her own.
By play''s end, after things have started to go bad for Jackie, we realize that she needs Val a whole lot more than she ever realized. Given the underlying strength that Hahns gives to Val, we are left feeling that maybe, just maybe, there is some hope for Jackie.
Virginia August does an equally good job with Jackie. Given the character''s severe--if not downright dour--disposition, it would be easy to dismiss her without caring about her. August manages to let us see between the cracks in her character''s façade; sometimes it''s just a look or a hint of slumping body language that belies her otherwise righteous posture, but there''s just enough of a hint of the struggling woman inside who''s desperately, obstinately clinging to the only hope she can find.
Supporting actors Chris Heimer, Conrad Selvig, Susan Keenan and Caitlin Elise Smith deserve credit for their solid performances. And Lynette Graves deserves particular kudos as a perky lesbian who tries to pick up on Maggie--there''s a bittersweet undercurrent that Graves threads through the character, giving the character another dimension. Set designer Conrad Selvig''s remarkable number of different locales--cafe, Jackie''s living room, airline terminal, nightclub--all executed on the Cherry Foundation''s postage-stamp stage, using a limited number of set pieces, manages to evoke the variety called for by Reddin''s script.
And then there''s Deirdre McCauley''s Jackie, perhaps the most open character in the play. Jackie''s life is messed up, and McCauley makes sure that we know that she knows it. At the play''s beginning, she''s totally cut off from friends and family--in some ways, her reunion with her mother marks the beginning of the end of a long period of emotional isolation. McCauley attacks the character with a feral abandon. We can see a woman who knows she''s doomed to lose everything--except maybe herself--before she can reclaim anything.
Brutality of Fact plays at the Carl Cherry Center on Guadalupe and 4th in Carmel, Fri. and Sat. at 8pm, Sun. at 5pm, through 9/30. Tickets are $13-15. Phone 625-7559.