Dream and nightmare4/8/2015
You can thank God you never had a mother like Mary Bricker. Her face set in a grim, seamy square like a box of drawers set with traps, Bricker continues to break down and manipulate her daughters long after they’ve grown to adulthood. “Independence” may be the latest Tallgrass “Dream Project,” but this woman brings the nightmare.
Bricker, however, wasn’t the only actress who had this “Dream.” Co-star Rebecca Scholtec joined her in requesting Lee Blessing’s play, an all-woman show, and a nice contrast to last year’s “True West,” a testosterone fest, featuring Micheal Davenport and Shawn Wilson. Scholtec, in fact, provides the only foil to Bricker most of the way. She plays Kess, the lone daughter out of three to have escaped the mother’s clutches.
Kess has been on her own for years, but middle daughter Jo remains under Mom’s thumb, and so the younger sister’s cry for help forces the oldest to return Independence, Iowa. There, over a couple of tumultuous weeks, everyone in the family — the youngest is Sherry, an unapologetic sexual predator — proves a candidate for the town’s Mental Health Institute. The women test the love they bear each other, teetering in a four-way tug o’ war. Overall, they imbue this tragedy with so much energy, you wonder why Blessing is better known for “A Walk in the Woods,” a quiet drama of international diplomacy.
Certainly the script offers terrific nuggets. “The best way out of the house?” Sherry asks Jo, combatively. “Dedicate yourself to meaningless sex.”
Tiffany Flory handles Sherry, and it’s great to see her revel in slut freedoms. Flory pushes past her past work as Lady Macbeth, especially when she goes toe to toe with Kess. She even gets the older sister to let down her guard — the squared shoulders and flat-mouth Scholtec maintains — as the closest thing to sane throughout most of the play. Yet in what may be the funniest moment, the gay Kess and hetero Sherry swap stories of callous sexual encounters. They smirk in shared wickedness, with legs tangled together across the battered sofa.
All the furniture looks worse for wear, as does the house itself, with sick-yellow walls torn away here and there to reveal ratty brown slatting. The distressed materials of the set seem a departure for Tim Wisgerhof, and that’s a good thing. The look matches Jo’s: an aging stay-at-home in frumpy clothes.
Director Maxwell Schaeffer understands that Jo is the story’s fulcrum. He arranges things so that when Bricker sinks to her creepiest, her prey is Susan Sherriff as Jo. As victim, Sherriff’s gaze is a cornered rabbit’s, yet later when she develops gumption, her eyes grow still larger, wetter, as if the rabbit’s spotted a way out. For Jo, it’s fight or flight — and it’s a rare show that takes us into such desperation.
Overheard in the Lobby: Complexions Ballet comes to the Civic Center April 11… “Sex Tips for Straight Women From a Gay Man” opens at the Temple April 14. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.