Playwright: Brooke Allen At: Tympanic Theatre Company at Luna Central (fka Live Bait), 3914 N. Clark St. Tickets: 773-819-5862; www.tympanictheater.org; $15. Runs through: Oct. 28
First, the facts: Ruby Wilder; her boyfriend, Harper; and her little sister, Junebug went to a bar one night, where Junebug, despite Ruby's protective eye, met a sexy stranger who turned out to be a serial killer. Since creepy Ozzie only offs his victims one at a time, Ruby survived her captivity but Junebug disappeared, never to be seen again. Four years later, Ruby encounters Ozzie in another bar, once again becoming his prisonerbut this time their date will finish very differently.
Brooke Allen could have recounted her lurid yarn in a linear progression, allowing us to wallow in its pulp-noir sensationalism. Instead, she structures her narrative mosaically, beginning with Ruby bound and blindfolded in Ozzie's lair, then taking us through a succession of flashbacks/flashforwards depicting events which may have actually occurred, or might be figments of our heroine's traumatized unconsciousness. She also introduces an omniscient narrator, whose instructions the play's personnel obeysometimes.
By the time the evening (and maybe the story) reaches its conclusion, we have two people dead, one wounded and another who may have been murdered or may have committed suicide. Ruby is still alive, but her complicity in engineering this outcome is now in doubtis she still a victim or has she become, herself, a cold-blooded assassin? Is everything we have witnessed the delusional fabrication of a real psychopath, and is the first-to-be-gunned-down narrator a prison shrink? Do we care?
Allen's legal training in estate planning may have influenced this post-mortem approach to her scenario, or perhaps her intent was to heighten our empathy by taking us into the mind of her protagonist. Whatever the inspiration, our focus is rendered so diffuse therebydid I mention the Barbie dolls dangling from Ozzie's ceiling and the characters crawling from under plastic sheets like cadavers in a morgue?as to dilute any sort of emotional bond we might forge with these self-involved archetypes.
Director James D. Palmer and three of the five actors making up the cast for this Tympanic Theatre production are affiliated with Red Tape Theatre, and thus prepared to revel in this ambiguity. Ultimately, although Allen's fragmented mode of disclosure cannot help but obstruct whatever its purpose may have beenrather like a jigsaw puzzle where the point is only to admire the shape of the individual pieces, rather than look for a big picture.