Written by Anne Adams

Directed by Jay Stull

After so many noted playwrights have had a crack at the genre, it’s not easy to give the dysfunctional rural family play a fresh spin. Yet, thanks to her keen ear for regional speech and compassionate approach to her characters, playwright Anne Adams delivers an original and affecting take on the American dark pastorale.

Darryl, (Sidney Williams) lives a life of self-imposed exile in a slovenly apartment in Bell County, Texas. His set routine of drinking and loafing is disrupted by the arrival of his imperious sister Tiffany (Vanessa Vache), who insists that he join in an upcoming family gathering. Their parents are about to renew their wedding vows, and Tiffany has promised Mama that Darryl will attend the ceremony. Cooperation is in short supply, however, as Darryl and his father have been estranged for years. To complicate matters, Tiffany’s girlfriend Jamie (Bethany Geraghty), who is struggling to maintain her newfound sobriety, feels as if she’s caught in the middle of the family’s squabble. Tiffany and Jamie take off, leaving the conflict unresolved. Darryl’s solitude is short lived, however, as Jamie, stranded after a violent row with Tiffany ends up knocking on his door in the middle of the night. Darryl grudgingly lets her stay the night. The two get to talking, and find they have plenty in common. Both have struggled with behavior illness, both have been on the losing end of bitter custody battles and been separated from their kids. Talk leads to physical intimacy, and Darryl and Jamie’s find themselves wandering into dangerous territory—especially when the atomic-tempered Tiffany returns unexpectedly.  The ensuing conflagration leaves no one unscathed.

Confident in his cast, director Jay Stull lets the actors, like the lost souls they portray, experience the awkwardness of their newfound vulnerability. The subdued, disarmingly authentic performances give the play a vital emotional core. Adams thankfully steers clear of redneck stereotypes, and makes it clear that, though her characters may have sketchy coping skills, they don’t lack intelligence. Their language is peppered with recovery rhetoric, and with phrases like “raison d’être”, which take on an intriguing musicality when delivered with a Texas twang. Adams also exhibits a feel for dramatic structure, steering clear of the shoehorned exposition and forced plot points that often haunt single-set naturalistic plays. Visual manifestations of the characters psyches are provided by Michael O’Connor’s lighting design, Samantha Rose Lind’s costumes Brian Dudkiewicz’s grungily lyrical set.

STRANGE COUNTRY continues through August 13, 2016 at the Access Theater, 380 Broadway, New York, New York. Tickets:

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