Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis
Johnna Abrams’ Rattlers, the second in a supernatural trilogy, brings Greek tragedy to 1970s Oklahoma. In one corner, a pastor named Osley (Jason Paradine) is kidnapped by his high-school sweetheart Ernelle (Amy Lynn Stewart) and her new beau Snake (Scott Drummond). They want him to use his demonic powers to resurrect Ernelle’s murdered younger sister. Taking center stage, the townie funeral director, Ted (Matthew Crosby), and the big-city, reserved, husband Everett (Richard B. Watson) stand outside a funeral parlor discussing the woman they both loved. Lastly, we have Ernelle’s mother Mattie (Jane Lincoln Taylor), a shrewd, tough-as-nails single mother who spends the evening of her daughter’s wake seeking revenge instead of shedding tears. In an effort to uncover the truth she appeals to Ted’s naïve younger brother Shane (David Jackson), taking full advantage of his obvious crush on her.
The ensemble works well together, creating a sense of consistency across the alternating storylines. Specifically, Richard B. Watson and Amy Lynn Stewart give excellent performances as a widower struggling not to show his grief and a desperate, bereaved sister. A man’s man through and through, right down to the squinty gaze and long cigarette drags, Mr. Watson takes his time with his lines. His use of dry, well-timed punch lines and cocky body language always keep him the center of attention. As for Ms. Stewart, when she enters in a clingy halter dress and worn red high heels that make her at least as tall as the other men onstage, she grabs our attention right from the start. With solid eye contact and an unquavering, stubborn tone, she makes known her sadness but keeps it in check enough so it never comes across as weakness. Ms. Abrams’ comic timing and effective one-liners contribute to the quick pace of this short piece. This wit, combined with the play’s empathetic humanity, helps the audience to easily follow the different threads. However, too much of the play is spent talking about the past, and little effort is made to push things forward. Also, with all the abrupt shifts between scenes—conversations resume where they left off two scenes ago—it can be hard to keep one’s place in the present.
A similar vagueness surrounds the actual murder. Many characters try to uncover the murderer, but the choppy plot prevents the action from building up in a progressive, organic fashion. The facts never quite get stacked up in place for a long enough time to hold substance, and when the climax occurs, it is disorienting. Additionally, there is the “too many ingredients” problem. As opposed to sticking to one track and making it work, Ms. Abrams tries to combine too many branches of religion and mythology, and by the end they all become muddled.
Overall, Rattlers stands on its own as original theater, taking creative license with its source material instead of simply regurgitating the themes of good and evil. The expert cast and sparkling humor keep this play entertaining, despite the plot’s loose ends. If you’re looking for a quick fix of mysticism and murder with a splash of religion for good measure, you’ll enjoy the wholehearted efforts of the Flux Theater Emsemble.
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