Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The Kind Ones
Also see Patrick's review of Heroes of the Fourth Turning
That there will be mayhem is indicated from the very start, beginning with the set (by Tonya Orellana), which is the framework of a farmhouse, painted deep red, almost as if it were a bloody skeleton. Upstage is a very wide but slender image of a cloudy sky, almost a slit, as though it were the view from inside a medieval knight's helmet as he sets off on a noble quest. Then, in dim light, we see Nellie (Anne Darragh, in a brave and nuanced performance), a frowsy woman in her 60s, as she mimes the slaughtering of a pig.
This chore accomplished, Nellie sits down to her dinner, a can of peaches, for which she asks a blessing "in the name of the women of the Bible." But her meal is interrupted by a pounding at her door. Baseball bat in hand, she greets the much younger Fitz (Kian Johnson), who claims to be the son of a friend of Nellie's named Frank, but who has a mysterious request for her, a job of sorts that Fitz claims his father has roped him into. From beyond the grave, no less, via an envelope Frank left behind, with a flyer advertising Nellie's pig business, directions to her farm, and a burner phone that began ringing soon after Fitz first turned it on.
The job is a bloody one, but it's not the last, for Fitz's burner phone is–fittingly–burning up with calls from women desperate to receive the same sort of service that requires Nellie and Fitz to engage in their gory business: disposing of the bodies of abusive men by feeding them to Nellie's pigs. Frank apparently specialized in defending women who had finally had enough from their abusers and took matters into their own hands.
As the work continues–and the pork from Nellie's pigs gets raves reviews from her customers–Nellie and Fitz have to deal with bearing the "awful dark secret" of their new endeavor, as well as discovering more about each other, which leads to an odd denouement. But not before the rules they've set for themselves get broken and they are left wondering whether or not their intentions are honorable even if what they do to achieve those intentions is not.
As Nellie, Anne Darragh is brilliant, embracing the cast-off nature of a woman who has lived a hard life and struggles to even "eat three meals and say one prayer." In a ratty cardigan and mom jeans, with hair unkempt as though she has just stepped inside from a prairie windstorm, Darragh is never less than believable as a hard, worn-down woman trying to get through each day. Johnson is somewhat less successful in his role, often pushing too hard in his attempt to express the anger mixed with optimism that his character contains.
Director Lisa Peterson keeps the action moving briskly, and the 70 intermission-less minutes fairly fly along as the body count rises along with the tension. Though Nellie and Fitz see their business as having a noble purpose, the harsh reality of their endeavor nonetheless weighs on their core humanity, and by the play's end they are left–as we in the audience are–to wonder if the wrong they are doing actually serves a greater good.
The Kind Ones runs through February 20, 2022, at Magic Theatre at Fort Mason, Two Marina Boulevard, Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco CA. Performances are Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m., Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range from $20-$70. Tickets and information are available at MagicTheatre.org, by calling 415-441-8822, or in person at the box office, which is open Monday-Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on Saturday one hour prior to curtain.