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Midwestern Gothic ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
April 2, 2017 

Morgan Keene (Stina) with Jp Sisneros, Evan Casey, Chris Sizemore and Stephen Gregory Smith (Hired Boys). Photo by Margot Schulman

Morgan Keene (Stina) with Jp Sisneros, Evan Casey, Chris Sizemore and Stephen Gregory Smith (Hired Boys). Photo by Margot Schulman

Midwestern Gothic is an unexpected palate cleanser – a sharp-as-knives psychological thriller reminiscent of Fargo – the Coen Brothers brilliant cinematic drama of crime and revenge in America’s heartland.

In this twisted tale of jealousy, seduction and sexual domination, our focus falls on Stina (Morgan Keene), a honey blonde nymphette whose movie star dreams of James Dean and Natalie Wood lay far beyond the farmhouse she shares with her lascivious stepfather, Red (Timothy J. Alex) and four hired hands who form a harmonious Greek chorus of unfulfilled desire.  But this creamy-thighed siren has set her sights on Anderson (Sam Ludwig), a love-struck greenhorn who does her bidding – some of which involves neighborhood thieving, putting him squarely at odds with Sheriff Dwayne (Bobby Smith) who urges him to walk the “Straight and Narrow”.

Timothy J Alex (Red) and Rachel Zampelli (LuAnn) . Photo by Margot Schulman.

Timothy J Alex (Red) and Rachel Zampelli (LuAnn) . Photo by Margot Schulman.

Meanwhile Stina’s mother, Deb (Sherri L. Edelen), runs a shot-and-beer bar where she finds the attention she has been missing from Red.  In the number “Whiskey Courage” she works her boozy magic on Rodney (Evan Casey) spiking Red’s anger.  To get revenge he runs off with the town tramp, LuAnn (Rachel Zampelli), to put a hurtin’, as they say, on Deb.  But his revenge is not so sweet after all when Stina catches them back at the house in flagrante delicto.

Writer and Co-Lyricist Royce Vavrek and Composer Josh Schmidt set a complex balance in this World Premiere production adding quaint references to curling, cows, rednecks and Jesus while splicing in Stina’s dizzyingly cruel imagination and her powers of emasculation.

Sherri L Edelen (Deb) and Timothy J Alex (Red). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Sherri L Edelen (Deb) and Timothy J Alex (Red). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Keene, using a haunting flat-accented vibrato voice, is wonderfully cast as the beautiful and voracious sex kitten who lures, then punishes, every man within her small sphere.  A supporting cast, cleverly directed and choreographed under Matthew Gardiner, fairly flies through seventeen musical numbers encompassing a range of emotions, from Stina’s love song to a spring flower in “Tell Me a Story, Crocus” to “Saint Sebastian” with Stina, Anderson and the burly hired hands (Evan Casey as Rodney, Jp Sisneros as Evodio, Chris Sizemore as DJ and Stephen Gregory Smith as Brett), in a song that backgrounds a bizarre scene of crucifixion.

Timothy J Alex (Red), Sam Ludwig (Anderson) and Bobby Smith (Dwayne). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Timothy J Alex (Red), Sam Ludwig (Anderson) and Bobby Smith (Dwayne). Photo by Margot Schulman.

As the latest installment in Signature’s American Musical Voices Project, the musical is spellbindingly dark, think Truman Capote’s classic “In Cold Blood” and Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”, and yet utterly riveting.  An audience member likened it to TV’s Criminal Minds.

Highly recommended for adults only.

Through April 30th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.sigtheatre.org

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