Thursday, October 1, 2009

Killers & Other Family (Rattlestick)

Killers & Other Family
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
September 21, 2009
Lucy Thurber (writer)
Caitriona McLaughlin (director)

I'm thrilled to hear that Killers & Other Family, Lucy Thurber's fever-dream of a drama, has extended its run. It may not be perfect, but it's such an intense 80 minutes that my critical faculties are overwhelmed by its ambition. If you love modern American theater, you must see Killers. Got it?

The show's depiction of savagery invites comparisons with Sam Shepard or Adam Rapp, but the dark sociopathy at the play's heart reminds me most of Jim Thompson, the '50s crime novelist nicknamed the Dimestore Dostoyevsky. Partly, it's the set-up, pulp-simple yet stagy enough to power a one-set/two-scene drama: Lizzie's past catches up when her on-the-lam brother hides out at her NYC apartment with her murderous ex-boyfriend Danny. But Thurber invests her scenario with metaphoric weight, showing how the repression of childhood trauma rips apart the illusion of adult safety.

Much of the credit for the Rattlestick's stupendous production goes to Samantha Soule's fearless performance as Lizzie. Soule throws herself into whatever the script (and her nightmarish ex) demand, but ties everything together with conviction—it's all in her reading of the line “I never did change, I just moved the pieces around.” She's partnered expertly by Shane McRae as Danny: you can see the neural misfires in that sicko's brain.

After my friend and I saw Killers, we wondered if the tonal instability (seesawing from fine-grained naturalism to lyric surreality and absurdist violence) was a problem. But I think Killers has the dream-logic of a fairy tale, one aimed at 21st-century urbanites. If McLaughlin can't quite sustain a sense of imminent danger, or if Aya Cash, as Lizzie's wholesome roommate, breaks the tension a little too jarringly, it's all outweighed by the way Thurber depicts violence as a real threat and not as a plot crutch. Killers is raw, wild theater for our time, a drama that's bracingly alive.


Killers & Other Family plays at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place), closing on October 17. Tickets?

Photo: Sandra Coudert

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