a blogger review of Tallgrass Gothic by Melanie Marnich, presented by Impact Theatre
I'm not as familiar with the source material for this play, The Changeling by Thomas Middleton, as I would like to be. The Jacobean drama is, as most dramas of that time, a bloody and violent punishment of political, religious and sexual extremes. Passions of any type are violently punished to the fullest extent permitted by a given character's need for vengeance or justice. Marnich takes the play out of it's original setting and sets it in the present in the American Great Plains. It's a fitting location for Marnich's characters which often seem stranded and isolated from each other and from more a urban and modern America. A place where God's will and punishment is enacted through good and bad crop seasons. A place where options feel limited and it's easy to feel trapped. Given this, Tallgrass Gothic seems to have a lot to work with. A compelling story about lust, infidelity and murder set in the wide and beautiful plains of America's heart land. This is not an unusual choice for Impact Theatre who presented a good production of "Tis a Pity She's A Whore" earlier this year. Impact always seems to have an eye out for highly literate sexy violent, blood fests. Unfortunately, Marnich's play doesn't live up to it's beautiful title or the original source, and Impact's production doesn't live up to it's own production history.
Impact describes the play: "A spare, haunting play based on the Jacobean tragedy The Changeling, Tallgrass Gothic takes place in the Great Plains, where Laura yearns to leave her hometown and escape her abusive husband. A lover appears to promise her a way out, but that path leads to a devastating climax. If you loved the gorgeous starkness of There Will Be Blood, this is your kind of play."
We find Laura in the midst of an affair with someone who seems more handsome and intelligent then her husband, comforted by her best friend who disapproves of Laura's reactions if only because she secretly loves Laura herself. For some reason that is never made clear, Laura feels trapped in her "hometown" and doesn't make any move to leave it. Though she apparently hates her husband and I think, despite his fumbling inept hands, everyone in the audience thinks she should run away with the lover; Laura feels the only way out is to hire the town scary guy to kill her husband. Which he does. Then in a series of events that don't seem to clear, she also has her best friend killed. After which the tragedy seems to be that she ends up with the town scary guy, having traded one abusive relationship for another with an interlude of inconsequential murder in between. I say inconsequential because neither our main character nor the killer suffer any consequences that I can see.
Either the play is written in bad, halting dialogue that plays at a poetry it never achieves or the actors and director could never handle the words they were given. Who know why they did anything. Love seemed secondary, power seemed like a probable motive, but even that never had the importance it needed. The only character that felt fleshed out and honest was Mary, played beautifully by Elissa Dunn. Laura was played with sexy allure by Mayra Gaeta, who gives the script her best shot with what she has, and that seems to be boobs. Other then that I never really cared for her predicament. The best line in the play was delivered by town scary guy played by Stacz Sadowski when, after having sex with Laura in payment for killing her husband, she pleads that he not spread word of it around town. "Nothing to brag about" he says, then compares her to nothing more then the sand beneath him. Beautiful moment played beautifully. Then the question begs...why does he keep killing for her? Who knows. Who cares. Apparently the playwright doesn't because we never get into it.
There is a lot to this play, and it's the kind of thing you would expect to be popular among theatre companies whose audiences are in the twenty to thirty five category: young people fucking each other and killing each other in semi poetic ways. Which is why you'll probably see more of "Tallgrass Gothic" around. But the play doesn't speak to the grasslands, doesn't speak to lust or power or vengeance, and whatever it does speak it doesn't do it well.