BWW Review: There are axes to grind in Firecracker Production's Regional Premiere of CROOKED, at the Obsidian Theater.

BWW Review: There are axes to grind in Firecracker Production's Regional Premiere of CROOKED, at the Obsidian Theater.

If you have any dull hatchets lying around, I suggest you bring them along. There are axe-grindings galore on the stage in this play by Catherine Trieschmann, now playing a summer run at the Obsidian Theater.

Let's start with a synopsis.

Elise (Arianna Bermudez) is a forty-ish single mom who has recently moved back into her deceased father's house in small-town Mississippi, out of financial necessity. With her is 14-year-old Laney (Anna Maria Morris), a rebellious, unbelievably precocious teen with a burning ambition to be a writer, and a medical condition that makes her right shoulder rise up under her neck. (Hence the title, "Crooked".)

Laney starts school, where she meets 16-year-old Maribel (Emily Beth Lange), a fundamentalist preacher's daughter who has been home-schooled, and is consequently behind, putting her in the same grade as Laney.

The two misfits naturally meet and bond, although Laney is essentially a pagan, and Maribel is steeped in the religious dogma of sin and punishment.

To say that complications ensue would be a gross understatement.

Elise is in crisis. She has just divorced her husband, whose whereabouts are somewhat hazy, and she has sole custody and responsibility for Laney. After a career in social work, she has taken a job as an office manager, not, she emphasizes, an administrative assistant. (The word "secretary" is too foul to enunciate.) She hates the job, but, she laments, she has finally become a person who wants to get paid.

As far as I can see, Elise is coping fairly well, with the able assistance of an ample supply of wine, but hey. With a whiny, demanding, bellicose adolescent in the house, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

Laney is a mess. First, there's her physical condition. But add to that her teenage angst, her commitment to being a writer, her determination to shock the daylights out of her potential readers, combined with every teenaged daughter's tendency to hate her mother, and you have a character who says, "What do you mean by that?" when you say, "Good morning."

No wonder Elise tipples. I would shoot up.

Maribel is something else altogether. A product of Christian home-schooling, she is bewildered by the world around her. She tries, but she really can't make sense of it. Being put back in school only makes it worse. When she meets Laney, she sees a soul crying out to be saved, and this becomes her mission. Laney is only too glad to get the attention, and goes along with it, making a quick stop (Spoiler Alert!) to plant one on Maribel, after which she goes home and tells Elise that she (Laney) is a lesbian.

I would like to say that these issues are resolved, or at least mitigated, but I'm afraid I can't.

There is really no resolution, and the final scene of Maribel in a melodramatic pose reminiscent of Bernini's The Ecstasy of St.Teresa is a little grotesque.

With the possible exception of Elise, who was fairly normal from the start, the characters neither develop or change, and the whole exercise appears to have no real point.

The playwright is saying something, but I'll be damned if I know what.

The actors, however, commit their considerable talents to the production with professional zeal, and it's a pleasure to watch them.

Special kudos to Anna Maria Morris as Laney, who manages to keep her arm in that unnatural and uncomfortable position throughout, never once dropping it, without the aid of any discernable prosthetic.

Arianna Bermudez is solid as the long-suffering Elise, tempering drama with a sardonic humor that keeps her sane.

Emily Beth Lange plays the tragedy that is Maribel with empathy and good grace; my heart went out to her.

Danielle Kristen Bunch's direction is brisk and workman-like.

And a note to tech: School bells do not ring that long, and they do not fade away. They start and stop.

CROOKED is not this reviewer's cup of tea, but in the interest of fairness, The London Times blurbed, "Gorgeous almost beyond belief.", and The New York Times called it "The work of a big accomplished writer's voice...a gem of a discovery."

I can only wonder what they saw that I didn't.

CROOKED runs through September 2 at the OBSIDIAN THEATER

3522 White Oak Drive

Houston 77007


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From This Author Gary Laird

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