Also see Susan's review of I Am My Own Wife
British-born playwright Bathsheba Doran has crafted this seemingly simple but gripping 90-minute work from the true story of Susanna Cox, an indentured servant who was hanged by the state of Pennsylvania in 1809 for killing her newborn baby. In spare but evocative language, Doran brings to life not only Susanna, but representatives of the society around her, and director Joe Calarco draws out every ambiguity and bit of tension in the script.
James Kronzer's rough-hewn set mostly consists of a plank floor and wall and a wooden table. This is the farmhouse where Susanna (Anne Veal) works for Jacob (Charlie Matthes), a restless farmer, and his wife Elizabeth (Vanessa Lock), whose family owned the land. Jacob dreams of something more than his isolated life: he boasts of having known Thomas Jefferson and the explorer Meriwether Lewis, and he feels stifled in the country away from Philadelphia. He comes to believe that he has more in common with the illiterate, stoic Susanna than with his educated, socially concerned wife.
Running parallel to the main story is Doran's satiric examination of the larger society. A fatuous publisher named Drumble (James Slaughter) calls for the creation of a uniquely American literature to rival that of ancient Greece. In the meantime, though, he prevails upon a young writer, Joe (Michael Grew), to create heroic legends of the American frontier and woeful ballads recounting notorious crimes. (Doran suggests that Drumble is the innovator who originated serialized stories that end with cliffhangers.)
Indeed, popular notions of civilization and heroism are a running theme throughout Nest. Susanna fantasizes about the folk hero Daniel Boone (Richard Pelzman), who was born not far from the farm where she now lives. In contrast, Elizabeth considers the outdoorsman Boone a criminal and little better than a savage.
Stillness is the key to Veal's thoughtful performance: Susanna is a plain-spoken woman who asks for little, and the actress portrays her without ever begging for sympathy. The other standout is Lock, who manages to convey Elizabeth's concern for Susanna, but also her inability to bridge the gulf between their social and intellectual circles.