Jane Mattingly (front) and Jennifer Levine in Crooked.
Photo courtesy The Bard’s Town
By Catherine Trieschmann
Directed by Doug Schutte & Scot Atkinson
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
“Straight” is a descriptive that comes loaded with connotations that reach far beyond the integrity of a single line. In Crooked, playwright Catherine Trieschmann examines the Omni-directional complexity of human behavior when confronted with madness and loss.
Elise Waters (Jennifer Levine) has recently moved back to her hometown with her 14-year-old daughter Laney (Jane Mattingly). As the play opens she tells Laney that she is divorcing her husband and Laney’s father, who she very recently had committed for mental illness. Laney takes all of this change as a betrayal of both her and her father, and her bitterness is expressed in some acting out that includes playing fast and loose with the truth. Laney also suffers from a malady that forces her posture into an asymmetrical configuration, a literal symbol for the crookedness inside of all three characters.
That third character is Maribel Purdy (Megan Adair), a 16-year-old, formerly home-schooled teenager whose devout, conservative Christian family has kept her fairly sheltered from the larger world. Because their peers ostracize both girls as, “different”, they strike up an unlikely friendship. Elise and Laney have never been religious, and the mother receives the daughter’s newfound interest in God as one in a series of lies. To the credit of the playwright and the directors of this production, faith is not made an easy scapegoat for the conflicts that arise between these three women. Superficially, yes, there is debate about the more repressive aspects of the church the Purdy family belongs to, but Trieschmann is after deeper, less easily categorized insights into such clashes of family and spirituality.
The tone of the early scenes is somewhat comic, yet there is a sober undercurrent that is allowed to come forward towards the end, a transition beautifully structured with such subtle care by the playwright that it seems entirely natural and organic in its development. This care carries through the ending, which is satisfying as much for what it doesn’t do as what is does. There is resolution enough to measure a destination but also enough questions to send the audience out in search of their own answers.
Crooked is a showcase for three actresses, and the work presented here is notable for its discipline and observation. Jennifer Levine and Jane Mattingly are perfectly cast as mother and daughter, and their familial connection is convincing. Ms. Mattingly credibly portrays a girl a decade younger, nicely capturing the petulant and rebellious teenage psychology by finding the integrity of the specific struggle within Laney, while Ms. Levine imbues Elise with that unique tension found in a parent left to fend for themselves against greater odds than a fair god might allow. Megan Adair takes greater risk with Maribel, a character that could easily slip into caricature. In her first scene on opening night, she may have pitched it a bit too broadly, but she settled more easily into the role with each passing minute, so that by the climax, her part of this feminine troika was palpably a human presence.
Treischmann’s play is thoughtful and penetrating, a beautiful work that largely avoids melodramatic incident in favor for smaller moments of resolution and reconciliation. The greatness of Crooked lies in the restraint it applies to deep emotions and human conflict. It is also no small thing to point out that The Bard’s Town seems to have a taste for chamber pieces designed for women to portray complex and contradictory characters (Rapture, Blister & Burn and Collected Stories).
October 15-25 (7:30 PM)
Advanced Tickets $16 ($12 for students and $14 for 65+ seniors)
At the door: $18/16/14
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.