BWW Review: Seattle Public Theater's Blisteringly Intense ON CLOVER ROAD

On Clover Road
Chesa Greene and Meg McLynn in
On Clover Road at SPT
Photo credit: John Ulman

Hang with me here, Dear Readers, as there are only a few things I can tell you about Seattle Public Theater's current production of "On Clover Road" lest I give away any surprises. In fact when I arrived to the theater the management asked me not to open the press packet they gave me to keep the secrets from me before I saw it. But I'll do my best. Let's see, I can say that the show is a one act with a run time of about 75 minutes. I can say this blistering thriller is written by the amazing Steven Dietz, author of "Lonely Planet", "Becky's New Car", "Yankee Tavern" and "Bloomsday" to name just a few. And most importantly I can say that you do not want to miss this one because if you do you'll be missing an incredibly thrilling ride with some of the finest performances I've seen all year.

Really, all I can say about the story is this. A desperate mother (Meg McLynn) meets up in an abandoned motel room with a man (Mike Dooly) whom she has hired to help her get her daughter (Chesa Greene) back from a charismatic cult leader (Brian David Simmons). That's really about all I can say. Any more and I risk giving it all away so let's just move on to as much as I can tell you about the production.

Uncanny in its ability to surprise, the play itself takes you on not only a dangerous and thrilling ride but also a quite emotional one. And director Kelly Kitchens has taken this play and found the perfect build of intensity for the journey. Not just the pacing for this thriller but the emotional journey of each character which kept building upon itself like an ever quickening countdown clock you know is leading up to an explosion. Add into that the beautifully bleak tone created by Christopher Mumaw's set and the eerie yet still practical lighting from Andrew D. Smith and the tone created for the evening will keep you on the edge of your seat. Be warned, there are very few moments for the audience to feel safe and comfortable in this one. And that's the point.

With a production already on the top of its game like this you need a top notch ensemble to match it and the entire ensemble here is more than up to the task. Sometimes you get one, two, three or maybe four outstanding performances in a show but here it's the entire ensemble that brings it and leaves it all on the stage, bare and vulnerable. McLynn's arc throughout the piece is so tragic and affecting as the utterly desperate mother that you can't help but sympathize with her even when she's not the most likable person. And her every nuanced moment in the play perfectly leads up to a final scene that will take your breath away. Dooly grabs onto the role of this rough and raw man with both hands and never lets it go. He constructs a truly hateful man with a core of hope that allows the audience to still connect to him. Greene has possibly the most difficult path of the play as she deftly maneuvers through several sides of her character without ever losing her intent of the moment. And Simmons turns in one of the creepiest and most subtly malevolent villains I've seen on stage. He's a cult leader so we know we should despise him but he manages an air of affability making you able to see how he could sway so many.

Even with its bleak and dismal subject matter I managed to have a great time at this one. From the incredible script to the brilliant cast and crew this show is a winner and makes even the bitterest pill a joy to swallow. And so with my three letter rating system I give Seattle Public Theater's "On Clover Road" a disturbed and thrilled YAY+. I'll say it again; you do not want to let this one pass you by.

"On Clover Road" from Seattle Public Theater performs at the Bathhouse in Greenlake through October 16th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattlepublictheater.org.

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From This Author Jay Irwin

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