nytheatre.com review by Kat Chamberlain
November 27, 2007
Kristen Palmer's Local Story is about the life choices we make to either stay or break away, and to what degree we even have real choice in such matters. We meet seven people in a small town, who are at once thoroughly quirky yet achingly familiar, and carry around broken and semi-broken hearts. It is an unblinkingly pure and transporting experience, a local story that makes a universal connection.
As the play starts we find Bubba, a man in his late 20s, lying on his living room floor, wide-eyed and disheveled. He is missing an orange sock—and his girlfriend, D'lady, who has run away with his best friend and roommate Jimmy. In D'lady's loving hands however, Jimmy's fate is the same as Bubba's. And these two have not been the only ones affected by D'lady's sudden departure. Bubba's sister Amory is worried that he has not left his house all this time. She's also worried about her husband, Roy, who used to have a huge crush on D'lady. Jimmy's sister, Gloria, takes in Betsy, who was with Jimmy for a time after D'lady ditched him. It is a web of relationships formed as much by the circumstances of a small community as the need to belong and be loved.
When, three years after the first scene, the bold, alluring, and deceptively self-confident D'lady very suddenly re-enters the picture, this circle of family, friends, lovers, and ex-lovers gets wound up emotionally yet again. You can literally see them bracing for traumatic ordeals. The animosities stemming from the hurt, and the rejection masking their fears, are fully realized and intricately articulated by Palmer's language. We are engulfed in the lives of these wounded people as they try to fix the blame onto the "deserter," only to realize that they may have long ago given up on themselves and one another. When Jimmy and Betsy get back together, Roy asks Bubba, "We are the same age as him. We do not neck young girls in the living room. We do not giggle. What happened? Where did that go for us?"
"Roy, we never did," replies Bubba, "Nothing's changed."
Director Susanna L. Harris moves the play with intriguing paradox: the dreary slowness of small town life, and the rapid emotional undercurrents brimming dangerously close to the surface. The cast is uniformly and delightfully talented, with Keira Keeley's otherworldly and mesmerizing Betsy, Marielle Heller's amazingly real Gloria, and Havilah Brewster's tough yet thoroughly sympathetic Amory being the standouts.
Most deserving of praise are three unsung heroes: the sound, lighting, and scenic designers (Amy Altadonna, Ben Kato, and Kina Park, respectively), who do the best work I have seen this season. The inimitable ambiance they create makes this anonymous and bleak little town grow more and more effervescent and seductive as the story unfolds.
Hometown is a metaphor for the relationships that have made us who we are. Palmer's exploration of her characters' reasons for clinging to one another is like a treasure map, giving up one clue at a time and concealing the reward till near the end. This map is well worth following, for it illuminates the mysteries of ordinary life and our hopes for happiness.