Seth Numrich, Noah Galvin, and
Libby Woodbridge in Yosemite
(© Sandra Coudert)
Seth Numrich, Noah Galvin, and
Libby Woodbridge in Yosemite
(© Sandra Coudert)
The snow-covered ground dotted with starkly naked trees of Raul Abrego's beautiful yet desolate scenic design perfectly establishes the atmosphere for Daniel Talbott's Yosemite, now receiving its world premiere at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Unfortunately, this striking visual image is the most compelling aspect of the production.

As the show begins, teenager Jake (Seth Numrich) and younger siblings Ruby (Libby Woodridge) and Jer (Noah Galvin) have been sent into the woods to bury the body of their infant brother. Much of their initial conversation is about banal things like school and food. But that soon enough turns to lamentations on the bleakness of their impoverished lives.

The kids live in a trailer with their mentally unbalanced mother, Julie (Kathryn Erbe), and their apparently lazy stepfather, Mike. They long for the time when their real father was alive and life was much better than what they're experiencing now. Talbott introduces themes of stagnation and the desire to escape, but he doesn't follow up on some of the more interesting plot threads.

For example, Jake tells his siblings that he's received an offer from an older man that he met to live with him, rent-free, to help out around the house and yard. It's a loaded piece of information that could take the play in any number of interesting directions, but it's dropped almost as soon as it's mentioned and never comes up again.

The pacing of director Pedro Pascal's production is slow-going, including long stretches of static action punctuated by brief flashes of high-pitched emotion. And while these eruptions into anger and recrimination may be justified by the circumstances surrounding them, they nevertheless come across as forced.

Numrich hits all of his marks as the sullen Jake, but it doesn't feel as if he has enough going on underneath to give a greater complexity to his portrayal. Woodbridge sadly doesn't even have much on the surface to offer up in her flat characterization of Ruby. Galvin hardly has any lines, but is nevertheless a solid presence throughout.

Erbe is never convincing in her character's admittedly overwritten and overwrought speeches. And Julie's arrival onto the scene about midway through the play signals the work's descent into bathos, leading to an overly predictable conclusion that does not have the dramatic impact that was likely intended.