In Buried Words, a dark drama by Karen Smith Vastola, two daughters, Abbey and Babe, meet in their childhood home before their mother’s funeral. Boxes are packed, but the last minute search for a mirror triggers discomfiting memories of violence and fear created by their clearly dysfunctional parents. What isn’t clear is the root of the abuse and alcoholism and the motive for various incidents that activate the spiral downward.
Buried Words is filled with dangerous objects that hint at violence. A knife serves to open a faulty bottle of beer, a baseball bat twitches in the hand of a mother too drunk to know what she is doing, and Abbey hammers a mop handle into a crucifix to be used on her father. But Vastola ignores Chekhov’s gun theory, and the props serve more as frightening décor than real weapons. More destructive than the many violent instruments at their disposal are the hateful, damaging words that the characters hurl toward one another. “I don’t love you,” the mother mouths to Babe. “No one will ever love you.” Babe tries to protect Abbey, who does not want to face the truth and makes excuses for their mother’s behavior.
Vastola presents some fine material in Buried Words. It would have been useful to weave character motive and back-story exposition throughout rather than saving it for the end when Babe reads the obit that Abbey has written. The play left me with many questions. Why does the mother, coming from a good family with money, succumb to the bottle and prostitution? The couple starts out in love. What triggers the descent? Why does the mother hate Babe? And, how old are the daughters in each memory scene? We learn from the obituary that the father, a sick war veteran, dies; from what? Are the daughters affected in any way? Is the mother’s obituary a fantasy, Abbey’s last effort at supporting her? If so, would a newspaper actually print an obit that is so poorly fact-checked? If it’s factual, then it offers insight into a different mother than I saw on stage.
The cast brings edginess to the material. Jennifer Conley Darling is earnest as Babe and convincing in her need to save Abbey. She shows the necessary vulnerability when she is attacked by her mother. Eve Danzeisen displays complexity as the favored child of abusive parents. And, Jess Watkins imbues the attractive mother with the scary unpredictability of a woman out of control. Rounding out the cast is Brandon Taylor in multiple roles, showing he can be distant and mercurial as the father, love-struck as Abbey’s beau, and no-nonsense as a police officer. Johanna Gruenhut directs.