Twist the Knife


Show #67: Forever Never Comes, Crowded Fire, June 11

Kathryn Zdan as Dylan in Forever Never Comes. Photo by Dave Nowakowski

By Sam Hurwitt

Not long after his full-length debut with the outrageous hit comedy Learn to Be Latina with Impact Theatre this February, the Bay Area is treated to another taste of local playwright Enrique Urueta’s work with Crowded Fire’s commissioned world premiere, Forever Never Comes. Directed by his usual collaborator Mary Guzmán, the play is subtitled “A Psycho-Southern Queer Country Dance Tragedy,” but it’s actually closest in style to a horror movie. There’s only a little dancing, for one thing, most of it eerily somnambulistic.

At the beginning of the play, Ricardo (Shoresh Alaudini) hangs himself after leaving a teary message on his sister Sandra’s answering machine. Ricardo’s been living in San Francisco while everyone else is in a small town in Virginia, and we never really learn anything else about him or what led to his suicide. Devastated, Sandra (Marilet Martinez) makes a deal with the mysterious Fox Confessor (a leering Lawrence Radecker). He can make it go away, he says. He’ll give her a year, and then she’ll be his.

It’s unclear what if anything Sandra actually gets out of her deal with the Fox Confessor—a year, sure, but a year of what? At first you’re thinking maybe she’d get her brother back, but that doesn’t happen. And it’s not another year of life, because she wasn’t noticeably dying. Whatever that gained year is about, we basically skip past it to reckoning time anyway.

The FC comes nosing around, saying time’s up demanding that Sandra come with him, and she basically freaks out and won’t go anywhere near him, so he says he’ll just have to start taking the people around her instead. Only Sandra can see or hear the FC as he skulks around staring at people, but he can clearly manipulate them, making them freeze in their tracks so he can have some alone time with her.

One of the most effective things in the whole production is the use of Marilee Talkington’s video projections, which are mostly in the form of slideshow snapshots. We’ll get an establishing shot of the house in which a scene is set, and often we’ll see a photo of the characters in the same poses we’re seeing onstage—except the Fox Confessor is looming over their shoulders, watching them with menacing intensity. For a large chunk of the play Radecker doesn’t appear onstage at all, just in these onscreen glimpses, and the effect is incredibly creepy. The spooky atmosphere is compounded by a door that keeps swinging open by itself, and rain that occasionally pours down around the edges of the stage area, which is set apart from the seating in the round by low, benchlike barriers that make it look like a combat arena.

The Fox Confessor looks pretty much like a normal guy, albeit a sinister one. He’s obviously a devil figure here, but he’s also inspired by the Neko Case song “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” from the album of the same name. In fact songs by the country singer-songwriter are used lovingly throughout the production, often playing in their entirety while the actors form silent tableaux.

All this makes it sound as if Sandra’s the central character here, but we don’t really get to know her all that well. She’s more of a gateway into her ex-lover’s family, which bears the brunt of the Fox Confessor’s vengeance. Dylan, born Deborah and compellingly played by Kathryn Zdan, is planning to move to San Francisco and get sex reassignment surgery. It’s something that she hasn’t had the heart to tell her very conventional and very Southern mom. Sandra isn’t entirely on board for either, because she wants a girlfriend, not a boyfriend.

Dylan’s sister, Beth Ann, is young, very pregnant, and living with her abusive and unreliable baby daddy. Marissa Keltie gives Beth Ann a playful wildness that makes it not much of a mystery how she got knocked up, but also feelingly captures the cringing deference of an abusive relationship. Daniel Petzold as her boyfriend Hunter gives a strong sense of not just the casual menace of a hair-trigger temper but also the insecurity and weakness of character that leads to that behavior.

Dylan and Beth Ann’s mother, Donna (Michele Leavy), is a piece of work, chattering on and on and on about the most banal things, like the steaks on sale at the grocery store. Sandra has a mother, too, played by Carla Pantoja, but she doesn’t interact much with the story as a whole, instead spending most of her time at home praying and soliloquizing to her dead husband about living in her second language, losing her first and being afraid of not being able to speak any language very well.

There’s maybe a little too much of widows talking to their unseen husbands as if in conversation, and the monologues in general feel a little long. The story feels underdeveloped, with its setup unclear and its resolution a very abrupt and convenient deus ex machina.   But Urueta’s dialogue is delightfully clever throughout, packed with bits of regional color like mayonnaise and banana sandwiches and answering “What kind of Coke you want?” with “Sprite.” “I’m weaker than Whitney Houston at a crack buffet,” Beth Ann says about sneaking Virginia Slims when she’s pregnant.

The characters are involving and memorable, even if they’re more fleshed out in one family than the other. The subplot around everyone’s issues around Dylan’s identity is particularly intense, and the sense of tension and menace is palpable throughout. When things go bad, which is pretty much right from the beginning, it’s enough to make your skin crawl, and they’re only going to get much, much worse.  Although still very rough around the edges, or rather around the ends, it’s a wrenching drama and a riveting thriller in a tense, taut production well worth watching.

Forever Never Comes plays through June 26 at the Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma St., San Francisco. http://www.crowdedfireorg.

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