Edward Allan Baker's American Storage at the Kirk Theatre is deceptively complex. It manages to incorporate dramatic threads about self-image, artistic expression, emotional repression, and psychological disorders into a challenging, thought-provoking work encompassing dramatic ground roughly the size of its Providence, Rhode Island setting while seemingly never having moved an inch.
What makes Baker's success even more satisfying is that his play starts off much more conventional, bearing almost a TV movie-of-the-week premise: A woman with one son and three foster children dies, leaving one, Rollie (Leo Lauer), to live in a storage unit with her things, while the other two, Bry and Allie (Andrew J. Hoff and Teresa L. Goding), try to put the pieces of their lives back together with as little help from the woman's actual son, and their lifelong enemy, Howard (Stephen Brumble, Jr.), as possible.
It seems like standard stuff - the suspicion, the distrust, and the anger leading to predictably violent fights and emotionally drenched confrontations between the three; for much of the first act, that seems to be exactly the way Baker is headed. But there are a few unusual touches that keep interest up: Howard is a dramatic writer who baldly incorporates his foster siblings' personalities in his work, Bry and Allie both seem to suffer from multiple personality disorder, and there's a strong suggestion that one or more of the characters were involved in their stepfather's murder.
Baker intentionally keeps these strands of story disconnected at first so that he may tie them back into his main plot later in a substantially surprising way. Granted, Baker's dramatic games - hiding facts and redefining them later on - give the second half of the play a very different feel from the first, but there's never a sense of incongruity; all the events flow naturally to the play's surprisingly harrowing conclusion. (The flow would be improved even more by removing the intermission, apparently inserted after the printing of the program.)
Drew DeCorleto doesn't seem to have directed the piece as much as allowed it to build itself up from the integral components Baker has provided. This is a very smooth production, both in look (with J. Wiese's lower-middle class storage unit set and Christien Methot's vibrantly colorful lights) and rhythm - much of Baker's dialogue is almost poetic in scope, and it's delivered with appropriately musical precision by the cast.
Each member of the cast does fine overall, but never quite seems to hit his or her stride until later in the piece, when Baker's complete intentions are known. Until then, the four actors struggle with maintaining secrets and hiding key bits of dramatic information from the audience, things Baker doesn't always facilitate in the most cunning of ways. Still, the actors' unkempt performances supporting this uncomfortable dramatic fašade do work, though they're able to come through much more clearly and effectively when the artifice surrounding the characters is stripped away.
Of course, Baker's writing is also much better later on, tackling emotional subjects in a more direct way that prevents, for example, Rollie's overwrought story of witnessing an abusive parent at a nearby convenience store; Baker's work is always most on target when dealing with his central characters. It's finding out exactly who those people are, and what the real circumstances are surrounding their relationships, that keeps American Storage at its most intriguing and affecting.