nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 5, 2008
Torrents, Robert Attenweiler's new play, is a tight and darkly funny suspense melodrama whose moral may well be that people shouldn't be allowed to have guns. A note on the face of the program warns that a pistol (blank) will be fired during the show, and more than one firearm is bandied about in just about every scene as we wait for that warning to be realized. Know this: the gunshot, even though we know it's coming, is a startling surprise. And also this: these characters' deep troubles wouldn't be half so problematic were it not for the unhappy truth spoken by one of them: "People here... like guns better 'n each other. So war was pretty easy."
Claire Torrence, an Iraqi War vet turned upstate New York cop, is the woman who speaks those lines. She lives on the outskirts of a small town with her sister, Rose, who was also in the war. They came home for their mother's funeral, after which Rose lost her hand; Rose now spends her time involved in vague, vigilante-style plotting against the government (one of her main grievances is that the state has abridged hunting season in the region).
What fuels the events in Torrents is the disappearance of three locals in their small town. Claire brings a carpenter by the name of Bill Daniels in for questioning (he made an end table for one of the missing men). Bill seems not to have anything to do with the crimes (if indeed there are crimes); but he tells Claire an odd and unsettling story about how he may have brought a dog to life. Claire arrives at the notion that Bill—a carpenter, after all—may be the second coming of Christ. Claire is that desperate to believe in something. But her faith may prove to be misplaced.
I hate to give away more of this carefully plotted story; Torrents is a grand mystery as much as it's an astute, wry look at some of the ideas rattling around the American psyche these days. Attenweiler's trademark stage poetry is everywhere in evidence here, along with his well-observed sense of humor:
BILL: Who do you think I am?
ROSE: Think you're an American. And, of course, when Jesus come back, he'll be comin' back an American. So, it could be you.
This production from the Barracuda Theatre Club, under the direction of Taibi Magar, is more grounded in naturalism than other productions I've seen of Attenweiler's work, which tends toward a kind of magic realism. It moves more slowly than it probably should, and Magar seems to worry too much about presentational details and not enough about the absurd/surreal tone that the play requires. But two of the central performances feel spot-on: Lyndsay Becker takes a while to ease into Claire's frantic-yet-immobile state of mind, but when she gets to it, she's quite compelling; and Reggie Oldham is devilishly sympathetic and commanding as the carpenter Bill, who might be Jesus Christ.
Kevin Graham's lighting and Gennarro Marletti's sound design are particularly effective among the play's production elements.
Torrents marks another step in Attenweiler's development as one of our most interesting young dramatists (note, by the way, that his earlier play ...and we all wore leather pants is published by NYTE in Plays and Playwrights 2008). It's an interesting and gutsy choice for this young company, Barracuda Theater Club, to tackle in what I think is only their second full-scale production; they're a group to watch!