BWW Review: ON CLOVER ROAD at Elmwood Playhouse

BWW Review: ON CLOVER ROAD at Elmwood PlayhouseElmwood Playhouse's On Clover Road is a tense, nail-biting thriller which keeps the audience guessing from the opening scene to the shocking conclusion.

As the play opens Kate, a single mom of a runaway daughter meets a sketchy, private investigator named Stine in a dilapidated motel near the commune, where Kate's daughter is now living. We learn from their conversation that the daughter disappeared some four years earlier and has not been seen since. Kate has hired Stine, (its somewhat unclear how she found him) and he is more than just private detective, he is some kind of "deprogrammer" of young female members of a cult run by a would-be prophet. We are led to believe that the cult luridly preys on attractive teenage girls. The playwright slowly and carefully unravels the details of his characters' lives bit by bit as he pumps up the tension.

Stine brings Kate to the hotel to prepare her to meet her long-lost daughter, explaining that it will be extremely harsh and possibly violent. He also tells her to be prepared for her daughter to not even recognize her - so extreme is the brainwashing of this cult.

Cornelia Groeger gives a detailed performance as Kate (although she seems to have some interesting kind of accent that sneaks into her dialogue periodically). Kate is a great big mess of contradictions, and we are never really certain whether or not she is actually a sympathetic character at all.

BWW Review: ON CLOVER ROAD at Elmwood Playhouse

Danny Charest was appropriately ruthless and dangerous as the gritty private investigator Stine. His menacing presence, lanky physique and scratchy voice provided and immediately unlikeable character. But is he? (no spoilers here!) The one thing that is certain in On Clover Road is that nothing and no one is what they appear to be.

When we meet Kate's daughter (listed as "A Girl" in the program) as Stine brings her into the cabin, ostensibly after having rescued her from the cult, she displays all the expected traumatic effects of having been brainwashed into obedience by the cult. But there is something amiss about her - something that Kate is determined to discover. Kat Smith gives a broad and spirited performance as the daughter. As their reunion gets heated the plot thickens and thickens. Multiple Items from childhood, a favorite stuffed toy and a mother-daughter game of cat's cradle become critical elements designed to jog the girl's memory but have the opposite effect.

BWW Review: ON CLOVER ROAD at Elmwood Playhouse

The "Prophet", played with smug charm by Stavros Adamides, is sort of a smarmy uncharismatic creep (its more than a bit difficult to understand how he manages to convince these young women to follow him). Harris has a gift of manipulation and plays the characters against one another to achieve his aims. Violence clashes erupt, concealed weapons appear and repeatedly change hands. It is a dizzying plot of changing alliances and changing Identities. So much so that, after a while, the audience almost expects things not to be what they seem. Suffice to say - the whole plan to save the daughter goes awry and a nail-biting show down with the prophet eventually unfolds.

The pulpy, almost noir feeling of the play is well served by Mike Gnazzo's dim and stark lighting direction and director Michael Edan's taunt, well-paced staging.

On Clover Road continues to run at Elmwood Playhouse through February 3rd

http://elmwoodplayhouse.com/

-Peter Danish



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