#117. High school!? A four year quest for peer acceptance. Egads! As I get older, the torture, the embarrassment, the awkwardness is muddled. The experience becomes less “Breakfast Club” poignant original and more “Facts of Life” silly reruns. Now, deformities and all, I go to all my class reunions. I banter with everyone. There are no more cliques, no more standardized tests, no more gym classes. It *does* get better...so much better.
Rivendell Theatre presents the Midwest premiere of CROOKED. Laney is the new kid. She’s fourteen with a chip on her shoulder and a hump on her back. Her parents recently divorced. And she has dystonia. To cope, she immerses herself in fiction: reading it, writing it, living it. Laney is making up a whole lot of stories that often end tragically. Her mom tries to ground her in reality. And her new best friend tries to save her. But Laney continues to believe her own lies. What happens when life gets totally bent out of shape? CROOKED is straight-up superb.
Playwright Catherine Trieschmann is in the house and the heads of these real characters. Trieschmann starts us down a seemingly ordinary path, mom-daughter struggle. The angst is familiar. The dialogue is funny. The daughter is insolent. And the mom is human. Then, Trieschmann heaps on the backstories and it gets twisted....really twisted. Under the masterful direction of Sandy Shinner, this sublime trio completely engage the audience. We are bonded to each of these women’s pain. So much so, that at the performance I saw, a woman two seats away from me blurted out what she thought was about to happen. Although I was partially annoyed at her commentary, I was so wound up in the scene that I could have easily gasped out this concerned warning too. Shinner stages the multiple room home (Set Designer Regina Garcia) for a heart-pumping finish. These actors sure didn’t seem like they were acting.
Rae Gray (Laney) and Tara Mallen (Elise) are a perfect daughter-mother pairing. They even look alike. The young talented Gray expertly balances defiance and vulnerability. As cruel as she gets, Gray maintains this bad puppy sweetness. (You want to punish her for gnawing on your new shoes but you know she just wants your attention). Gray continually provokes an emotional response. An exasperated Mallen conveys all the frustrations of mothering an out-of-control teen. We are right there with her on whether to hit or hug Laney. Mallen elicits plenty of empathy. Her natural delivery goes terrifically parent uncensored with questionable disclosure. It’s hilarious. Adding to the humor, Hannah Gomez (Maribel) charms as a simplistic, evangelizing teen. A southern-drawling Gomez blends amusing innocence with heart-wrenching naivety. Wow!
This powerful trio continues to intrigue me long after the blackout. It really doesn’t get better than this. CROOKED is as good as it gets!
Running Time: Eighty minutes with no intermission.
At Rivendell Theatre, 5775 N. Ridge
Written by Catherine Trieschmann
Directed by Sandy Shinner
Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm
Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm
Thru June 23rd
Buy Tickets at www.rivendelltheatre.org