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Minneapolis by Elizabeth Weir

Remarkable EYOTS Theatre
slides into eclipse with Slither

SlitherAfter 12 seasons of frequently shimmering productions, Eye of the Storm Theatre closes quietly with the premiere of Carson Kreitzer's Slither, a play that looks at the history of women and snakes, how blame is assigned and how women can move beyond cultural stigma. Slither, although well acted, feels choppy; it still has a skin or two yet to shed in workshop, and the production moves like a snake on a chilly day.

This ambitious play begins with Eve after The Fall, then shifts back and forth in a slowed MTV-style to Fanny Lou, a carnival snake-dancer in the 1930s; Aevah, a temple snake princess in ancient Crete; and Evie, a modern-day snake-handler in her husband's Bible-thumping church. Slither dips into the lives of Fanny Lou and Evie and their husbands, and draws a mystical connection between young Evie and Cretan Aevah.

Kreitzer's opening promises well. On Nayna Ramey's elegant three-part set, veteran actress Claudia Wilkins plays a comfortably middle-aged Eve. She rocks and knits and tells how she and God often have a bit of a chuckle over The Fall. Her attitude toward Adam is one of affectionate tolerance. "I let him blame me," she muses, her rationale being that, if Adam can blame her, then he's free to love God. But Eve holds God in large part responsible for what happened and asks, what the hell was a snake doing in Paradise? She muses that we are God's joke, a joke that Adam failed to get; instead, he got into shame and clothes. In Wilkins' sure hands, this female view of The Fall is delightful and refreshing, but the play rarely achieves the same wry wit again.

With a hiss and a rattle, the lights go down, and Slither cuts between scenes, some only a few lines long, and leaps between generations. It takes a while to work out who's who and how they might connect.

Eve's view of Adam as a humorless and flawed blamer, who cannot see irony, sets up a parallel, modern character, Harlan. Played by Terry Hempleman, Harlan is a self-interested, charismatic Southern preacher in the snake-handling Holiness Church. Under Casey Stangl's direction, Harlan's Bible-waving preaching is too muted to convince. His condescending and controlling attitude to his young wife, Evie, works better but, considering Evie's mother's fears, it does not feel dangerous enough.

Zoe Pappas plays a strong young Evie. Evie connects through disturbing dreams of temple snakes with Aevah, whose kingdom is about to be invaded by the Greeks. Aevah, played by Kate Eifrig, tells how her people's creation story of the apple of knowledge was distorted by a later, monotheistic religion. (We know which one!) For the Cretans, knowledge was not a sin, but a gift. The play needs this alternative perspective on the creation myth, and Aevah's sense of incipient danger structurally parallels Evie's situation, but Aevah's frequent appearances slow the play's action.

Evie also connects strongly to her grandmother, the carnival snake dancer Fanny Lou. Charity Jones plays Fanny Lou as a capable, attractive woman who knows her way around. When a young man named Adam, played appealingly by David Mann, comes courting, Fanny Lou is certain that she'll fail the come-home-and-meet-my mother-test. But their adoring marriage is ideal. They have a daughter, Evie's mother.

Kreitzer confronts something worthwhile in Slither. Our male-slanted Judeo-Christian creation myth that blames the female half of humankind for our faults certainly merits a second look. In Harlan and a murdering stranger, she cracks open the door on a rarely verbalized underlying cause of troubles in society, men's wayward sexual desire. For Harlan, it's easier to criticize and attempt to eliminate Evie than it is to face his own transgression.

In Slither, Kreitzer seeks to reclaim women's share of cultural dignity, but in spite of a strong cast, the play feels uneven in this, its first outing. It's action rolls along in circuitous connections, and it doesn't yet mount to an emotional climax. It's a brave play in a brave final production for the Twin Cities' finest small theater.

Slither October 16 - November 9. Thursdays, through Saturdays 8:00p.m. Sundays, 2:30 p.m. and Sunday November 2 & 9, 7:00 p.m. $15 - 20. Eye of the Storm Theatre at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage, at Lyndale and Franklin Avenues, Minneapolis. Call 612-343-3390.



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Elizabeth Weir



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