If you dig the Southern Gothic vibe of True Blood and prefer character over pace, Johnna Adams's deliciously twisted Rattlers has a nice bite to it. The best laid plans may go to pot, but the carefully plotted triptych that's the center of this narrative never misses a chance to underscore some creepy tale with an even creepier subtext, be it with dangerous comedy, tragic love, or freaky normalcy.
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Being dragged over to a wooden box filled with rattlesnakes while you're bound and gagged is never a good way to start your day, but it's a great way to start a play, and in Rattlers, Johnna Adams finds her bite, sinking her teeth in quicker than the eye can follow, and never letting up. The unfortunate victim here is Osley (Jason Paradine), and he's been kidnapped by his ex-girlfriend Ernelle (Amy Lynn Stewart) and her hyperactive boyfriend Snake (Scott Drummond); they expect him to resurrect Ernelle's murdered sister, regardless of the cost. Meanwhile, at the funeral home, Ernelle's brother-in-law, the rascal Everett (Richard B. Watson), is having a casual conversation with the creepy undertaker, Ted (Matthew Crosby), in which it seems more and more likely that one of them is the murderer. And in yet another connected but distant scene, Ernelle's mother, Mattie (Jane Lincoln Taylor) is looking for vengeance, although Shane (David Jackson) is hoping she'll just accept his devoted love instead.
By splitting the action (Jerry Ruiz's direction helps it hop along), Adams is able to do her entire trilogy on a micro level, from the comic horrors that the Bonnie and Clyde-like Snake and Ernelle are cooking up to the morbid romance between Shane and Mattie, and the True Blood-like subtexts in the easygoing twangs between Everett and Ted. It also gives her a chance to really focus on more than exposition--there's less plot and more character development, and that's a gift given the outstanding actors, every last one of them, in this production. Things amble along, instead of rushing to conclusions, and part of the fun in Rattlers is trying to guess what these tight-lipped characters will do next (or, with Snake, what he won't do).
Adams has a terrific voice, and her stories actually work on multiple levels. For instance, Ted's tale about sleeping next to the corpse of his obsession is rooted in the subtext in Everett's face as he listens--after all, he was married to her. The same goes for the look of resignation in Shane's eyes when he realizes that the woman he loves has drugged him, or the way Ernelle's good humor evaporates when she realizes that threatening to hurt Osley's daughter won't help--that she'll have to kill one girl to bring back another. This last bit captures the full effect of the trilogy, too: what price won't we pay to get back the ones we love?
Rattlers (1hr 20min, no intermission)
Wings Theater (154 Christopher Street)
Tickets: $18.00 ($40.00 for all three plays)
Performances (through 11/22): In repertory with Angel Eaters and 8 Little Antichrists, see website for details
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