Local playwright Lauren Gunderson’s edgy comedy (the amusing title is from the famous stage direction in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale”) is not the first play in which a vengeful woman ties down a man and rants at him — think Ariel Dorfman’s “Death and the Maiden,” for one.
But this rolling world premiere (an agreement among Crowded Fire Theater Company and two theaters, in Atlanta and Seattle, respectively) boasts an unusual concept.
As abused wife Nan (Erin Gilley) and her two pals — stripper Sweetheart (Andrea Snow) and best friend Simon (Reggie D. White) — taunt Nan’s duct-taped-to-a-recliner husband Kyle (Patrick Jones), they perform scenes from the couple’s troubled marriage.
The idea is to enlighten Kyle about the error of his ways, then cover him with raw venison and plastic honey bears and depart, leaving him to be devoured by a black bear from the surrounding hills. (Kyle’s not only an alcoholic wife-beater, but also a hunter.)
His mouth occasionally untaped, he splutters pleading endearments and insists, “This is my wake-up call.”
Each character gets a monologue or two, the fourth wall is often hilariously broken, a TV provides amusing images and information (video design by Wesley Cabral) and a few flashback scenes portray the couple’s romantic courtship.
Gunderson’s dramatic device is not only funny, especially given the characters’ quirks, but also engenders empathy for all four: hapless Kyle, gay control-freak Simon, dopey Sweetheart and emotional wreck Nan. Of her husband, Nan says, “I wish he was dead!” and declares, “Revenge is a core American value!”
But Gunderson’s zany, made-for-the-stage solution to Nan’s problems functions mostly on one level, so after a while it feels repetitious; the re-enactments, so entertaining at first, start to seem merely gimmicky, not bolstered by enough layers of revelation or by fresh insights.
Ultimately the relationship between vulnerable Nan and clueless screwup Kyle holds no surprises.
But under Desdemona Chiang’s direction, the fine-tuned ensemble is perfectly cast. Because the play is set in the South, the actors have consistent Southern accents and make their larger-and-goofier-than-life characters believable within the context of Gunderson’s imaginative setup.
The production’s only misstep is in the rather chaotic beginning. It moves by so fast; the theater’s two-sided configuration is so challenging staging-wise (although Emily Greene’s set is nicely detailed); and Gilley’s rapid articulation, combined with her accent, is occasionally so hard to understand that we’re temporarily confused. Hopefully a few more performances will smooth things out.
Presented by Crowded Fire Theater Company
Where: Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; closes Sept. 17
Tickets: $15 to $35
Contact: (415) 255-7846, www.crowdedfire.org