In recent takes at PlayMakers and Triad Stage, Catherine, the daughter who was forced to tend to her brilliant and mentally unhinged father during the last years of his life, has been rough around the edges, sure, but basically an OK kid. Her fears of inheriting her father's madness (along with his mathematical genius) are clearly baseless. Just as sentimentally, in both productions her father, Robert, has been depicted in advanced but harmless dotage.
That's why thanks are still due to director Kenny Gannon in this Hot Summer Nights iteration at Raleigh's Kennedy Theatre. Even with the show's difficulties--which are not insignificant--at least Gannon has granted his characters the fundamental realities of their conditions.
Notable upcoming actor Gigi DeLizza physically wrestles with Catherine's antisocial instability. In her hands, Catherine is a bright and truly troubled young woman. Chris Chappell's Robert has issues with an anger born of frustration at slipping intellectual gifts--and jealousy at those who still possess them. It's enough to make this the first time we've ever actually feared for Catherine's safety.
But the considerable integrity of these visions are compromised elsewhere. Chappell's character seems too young to be the father of Catherine and sister Claire. Additionally, his characterization of madness goes over the top at times. Tracey Phillips isn't directed as enough of a big sister to fund the unilateral choices her character makes. Phillips and DeLizza were so distracted by their characters' psychology that both blurted their lines at points, and a second-act scene where Robert falls apart in Catherine's presence still seemed more sketched out than worked through, emotionally and intellectually false.
In smaller snags, the same irritating toys-in-the-attic sound cue provided unsubtle commentary between most scene changes. And though we bought Michael Kennedy's work as math geek Hal, we weren't convinced when he emerged--fresh, in a crisp, unrumpled suit--after hours of drumming with his band at one point in act two.
Combined, these difficulties place this work in the middle-to-upper end of the scale for regional collegiate and independent performances--as opposed to the more professional results we saw in Hot Summer Nights' first two outings. Shows in this category invariably come with a significantly cheaper ticket price than this production's $35 seats. Even with its insights (and Sonya Drum's gloriously run-down two-story house set--which was incongruously placed on a larger, pristine, hardwood stage), this Proof still wasn't fully worth the price of admission last Thursday night.
***1/2 A Skull in Connemara, Wordshed/Ghost & Spice Productions--Martin McDonagh's small Irish village grows ever humbler in this second part of his Leenane trilogy. Now the dead are being evicted from their graves due to limited space and steady demand. Pensioner Mick (John Murphy) and irritating slaggard Mairtin (Jeff Alguire) are dispatched to dig up their bones and dispose of them. But when Mick's wife's remains are to be exhumed, small-town suspicions about her husband's culpability and her cause of death are raised again as well.
There are strong performances at the center and in supporting roles (with Marcia Edmundson as a tough, snuff-dipping old Mary and Chris Chiron as a half-bright police officer). But this earthy, amusing and dark little comedy reads like a shaggy-dog tale until a twist at the end leaves Mick--and all of us--wondering when everything of a life is removed, down to the bones themselves, what remains of a life's love and commitment. (Through July 10.)
E-mail Byron Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org.