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BWW Reviews: Taut, Dark Ireland in Keegan's THE MAGIC TREE

A dark and stormy night in Dublin; the setting, an empty house punctuated by flashes of lightning. Suddenly a window is broken, and one after another a small group of broken souls assemble in a dimly lit living room. A horrific act is attempted, and in the bloody aftermath the oddest of couples flees to Cambodia.

The scenario is startling enough, reduced to its bare essentials. But Ursula Rani Sarma's The Magic Tree is a fascinating, taut psychological drama with standout performances from its young cast. Directed by Matthew J. Keenan and Colin Smith, we come face to face with a generation forgotten, stuck in dead-end jobs with few friends-and sometimes even those friendships hinge upon a willingness to perform horrific acts.

Brianna Letourneau is riveting as Lamb, the troubled young women whose nihilistic streak leads her to this God-forsaken place; she is truly a mystery wrapped in an enigma, present but clearly thinking of somewhere else. Joining her in this dark space is the amiable but rootless Gordy; Chris Stinson plays him with a charm that barely masks his willingness to go along with the crowd, and let his mates dictate his actions no matter how vile. For Gordy, the struggle for decency is palpable and the need to make amends overwhelming.

Letourneau's Lamb, on the other hand, baffles us from one moment to the next; why on earth would she stick around? To emphasize this question, Sarma even gives us a sarcastic nod to the old horror-flick cliché of the lone girl in her underwear, waiting for predators to strike. Lamb's choices to hang out with Gordy, and to let him follow her on her flight to Cambodia, only make sense when we realize the emptiness at her core.

Once Lamb and Gordy have met, it becomes clear that she has been marked as a target by Gordy and his mates. We meet the psychopath/ring-leader, Doc, who is given a passionate, brutal turn by Seattle import Scott Ward Abernathy. His performance augurs well, and Washington's gain is clearly the rainy Northwest's loss. Tagging along is Lenny, the dim-witted Leporello to Doc's Don Giovanni. Ryan Tumulty, who has delivered solid work for Flying V, offers us a different side to his talents; Sarma's Lenny is clearly intended as a homage to Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. The violence that ensues, well-choreographed by Casey Kaleba, leads to a surprising twist; the first of several, as the second act unfolds.

Robbie Hayes has created a bulky, adaptable set that evokes wood-panelled dens in one act, and a massive banyan tree the next, enhanced by Patrick Lord's projections. Tony Angelini's sound design gives us a vivid sense of place and G. Ryan Smith has a masterful sense of atmospherics; together they acclimate us to the dull grey of an urban interior, only to dazzle us with light and color when the scene shifts to Southeast Asia. Kelly Peacock decks out the cast in contemporary gear, and her choices for Lamb in particular are especially good.

Sarma, an Irish-Indian playwright, gives us a glimpse of the despair of a Celtic Tiger weighed down by debt and economic depression. A country that once had so much optimism is still struggling to get back on its feet, after the financial crisis wiped out many of the gains it had made. Sarma writes with sympathy but also with remove; none of the people in her universe are completely innocent, nor completely evil either. Their humanity is contrasted with the trap that society has set for them, with almost inevitable results.

Production Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes with one intermission.

Production Photo: Brianna Letourneau (left) as Lamb and Scott Ward Abernathy as Doc. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

"The Magic Tree" plays at the Church Street Theatre October 10-November 13, 2015, in Repertory with "The Dealer of Ballyheafeigh". For Tickets please email Keegan at boxoffice@keegantheatre.com or visit: http://keegantheatre.com/plan-your-visit/tickets/ .


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