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My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Katherine Folk-Sullivan and Layla Khoshnoudi.
Photo by Hunter Canning.
Playwright Brian Watkins has found success through productions of his work mostly at small Off Off Broadway and fringe venues, but it would be unfair to refer to him as a "rising young voice." To judge from the quality of My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer, his haunted and haunting one-act play on view at the Flea Theater, I would say the playwright's rich and original voice has risen high already and fully deserves to be experienced by a wider audience.

With My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer, Mr. Watkins shows a particular adeptness at capturing the frisson of life in isolating circumstances. The play takes place in the prairie town of Eaton, Colorado, and the sense of the sprawling plains—and its impact on its inhabitants—is woven throughout.

In capturing the off-kilter psyches of his characters, Watkins might remind you of Sam Shepard, as the Flea's producing director Carol Ostrow has suggested. But the echoes I hear most are those of the Irish playwright Conor McPherson. Like McPherson, whose play The Weir provides a good example, Mr. Watkins captures the power of 'round-the-campfire storytelling to pull an audience into the world of his characters, and then shakes things up so that you are both drawn in and repulsed.

In My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer, we meet only two characters, 20-something sisters Sarah (Katherine Folk-Sullivan) and Hannah (Layla Khoshnoudi). Sarah is the stay-at-home caregiver to their ailing mother, while Hannah works as a waitress and is champing at the bit to put as much distance as possible between herself and Eaton. Even though these are the only two who have a visible on-stage presence, the playwright has written so evocatively of the young women's mother, their long-absent father, the 1985 Ford truck he left behind, and Vicky, the sheep that had been a gift from their father to their mother before he took off for parts unknown, you might leave the theater believing you have actually seen them all.

It is tricky to pull off a play in which the only two characters takes turns speaking in monologues. This is generally the function of storytelling more than it is of drama, but here the playwright has successfully captured the dramatic aspects of its companion form so that My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer truly functions as a compelling theatrical event.

Sarah, who has mastered the art of martyrdom, has swallowed years of resentment toward her mother, her father, her sister, and the aimlessness of her life. When the explosion comes—for come it must—the recipient of her pent-up fury comes as a surprise to her and to us. Equally surprising is how she is able to draw her sister, who carries resentments of her own, into the unfolding events, which become increasingly mythic—almost biblical—as the tale reaches its apotheosis.

Both Ms. Khoshnoudi as Hannah and Ms. Folk-Sullivan as Sarah give excellent performances, with the latter doing an especially fine job of capturing her character's bipolar-like appeal and scariness. The pair have been splendidly directed by Danya Taymor (yes, she is Julie's niece), and the production is greatly abetted by Andrew Diaz's set design, John Eckert's lighting design, and Adriano Shaplin's sound design—all of which contribute a great deal to setting the mood and the tone of the play.

One of the pleasures of attending the Flea is the company presents every one of its productions with all the love and care in the world. And, even though I will confess to not understanding the significance of the title, My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer is a deeply compelling work by a writer to be reckoned with.

My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer
Through February 15
Flea Theater, 41 White Street between Broadway and Church Street
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