We admit that the The Wooden Breeks isn't for everyone. The writing is lyrical, verging on the poetic, and the story is dreamlike. Ultimately, this is a play for the head, not the heart. The finale makes perfect intellectual sense -- in fact, it's enormously satisfying -- but because it runs counter to your emotional expectations, it may strike you as disconcerting.
The play is constructed as a story within a story. Our narrator, Tom (Adam Rothenberg), is a Scottish tinker with a facility for telling tales. Indeed, The Wooden Breeks is largely about the ways in which imagination and memory combine to make stories. Tom concocts one last story for Wicker (Jaymie Dornan), the nine-year-old son of Hetty (Ana Reeder), who left her child and her lover years ago and has yet to return. We're told that Tom's stories have become ever more elaborate explanations of what might be keeping Hetty away, but they always end with the promise of her eventual return. His tales provide him and the boy with some measure of hope and comfort, yet they have also kept these two wounded souls mired in the past, unable to move on with their lives.
Trip Cullman directs the production with the kind of abandon that the story requires. The acting is uniformly strong, with a particular dry, darkly comic performance by Veanne Cox. Anita Yavich's costumes are wonderfully inventive and absolutely right for the Lewis Carroll-like characters of the play. One more thing you should know, just in case you are one of those people who leave at intermission: a wooden breek is a coffin.
Catnip or Catnap?
If you can get past Emily Cass McDonnell's excruciating performance as a cat named Samantha in Kenny Finkle's Indoor/Outdoor, you might be able to enjoy this otherwise charming if inconsistent comedy.
It's not just that McDonnell's voice is more irritating than cute. Our biggest complaint is that she brings nothing to the words she says; her inability to interpret a line of dialogue is stunning. But everyone else in the cast does very fine and funny work. Mario Companaro is amusingly macho as Oscar the alley cat; Brian Hutchison is sweet as Shuman, the nerdy man who loves but does not understand Samantha; and Keira Naughton emerges as a comedienne par excellence in the dual roles of our heroine's cigarette-smoking mother and Matilda, a cat therapist who, like Dr. Dolittle, can talk to the animals -- or, at least, to Samantha.
A metaphor for male/female relationships, the play makes its points with an uneven mix of comedy, pathos, and sledgehammer. Fortunately, director Daniel Goldstein keeps the pacing and performances quick and light, so even the more heavy-handed moments seem less oppressive.
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