Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Pike St.
Signature has brought out many of its top talents for this compact 90-minute musical, including director-choreographer Matthew Gardiner and a cast including Helen Hayes Award recipients Sherri L. Edelen and Bobby Smith. Book writer Royce Vavrek and composer Josh Schmidt, who also collaborated on the lyrics, have created a work with unexpected but radiant tunes and harmonies, played by a five-piece ensemble (piano, accordion, guitar, drums and tuba) conducted by Timothy Splain. The audience sits on three sides in the intimate ARK Theatre, adding to the sense of claustrophobia and secrets that may have been better kept secret.
The plot is elemental, packed with sexual acting-out (no subtext here) and emotional manipulation, and it's no spoiler to mention that not all the characters are alive at the end of the show. Based on the presence on Misha Kachman's stripped-down scenic design of a boxy television set, a Polaroid camera, and a brick-like cordless phone, the time is the 1980s.
The two leads, both new to Signature, are Morgan Keene as Stina, a frustrated teenage girl desperate to do something with her life, and Timothy J. Alex as her stepfather Red, whose business went bust and who now spends his time hanging around the house and lusting unhealthily after Stina. They dominate their scenes, Keene especially in her final solo, "Mama Cries Into Her Tea," which could also be called "Stina's Turn." Alex brings enough empathy to his characterization that he makes Red a person with (doomed) hopes and ambitions rather than a one-dimensional lowlife.
Stina and Red are often alone together because their respective mother and wife Deb (Edelen) manages a bar in a neighboring town and doesn't come home unless she has to. Smith is the kindly sheriff, the only man in the vicinity who isn't mesmerized by Stina's determination to get what she wants with no sense of guilt. (She's a churchgoing girl, after all, so she's forgiven.) It isn't that things go bad; they start out bad and just keep getting worse.
The rest of the cast includes Sam Ludwig as a neighbor boy spellbound by Stina, Rachel Zampelli in a broadly comic performance as Red's inebriated companion for a night, and the "hired boys" (Evan Casey, Jp Sisneros, Chris Sizemore, and Stephen Gregory Smith) who populate Stina's fantasies.