Cristin Milioti and Carmen M. Herlihy in crooked
(© Carol Rosegg)
Cristin Milioti and Carmen M. Herlihy in crooked
(© Carol Rosegg)
The unlikely friendship that develops between two young women is at the center of Catherine Trieschmann's unsettling comic drama, crooked, now at the Women's Project. But despite some excellent writing, acting, and Liz Diamond's gently taut staging, certain aspects of the play feel altogether too calculated, ultimately lessening the play's impact and rendering it less-than-convincing.

Laney (Cristin Milioti), a 14-year-old given to writing gruesome short stories, and her mom, Elise (Betsy Aidem), have just moved back to Elise's hometown in Mississippi from Wisconsin, where Laney's dad has been institutionalized for mental health issues. Elise has decided to divorce Laney's dad and also quit her job, two facts that make the young woman's world even a little less stable. As if this weren't enough, Laney suffers from dystonia, making it look as if she has a hump. Given all these circumstances, it's not surprising that when Maribel (Carmen M. Herlihy), a cheerful 16-year-old, shows an interest in Laney and her writing, the younger girl is delighted.

The bond between Laney and Maribel is all the more surprising since Maribel's sunny disposition stems from the fact that she is born again, daughter to a man who's both a used car salesman and a preacher. Because of Maribel's kindness, Laney finds herself gravitating toward the older teen's religion, and when they share a brief kiss, Laney declares herself a "Holiness Lesbian."

Elise, a social worker with a healthy sense of irony and sarcasm (both moderated with exceeding warmth by Aidem), cannot believe her daughter's sudden "conversion," and urges her daughter to think and behave realistically. After all, Laney's in advanced placement courses, while Maribel, home-schooled by a mother who's never been certified to teach, is in remedial classes -- and believes she can feel stigmata in her palms.

It's a tribute to Trieschmann's writing, not to mention Milioti and Herlihy's delicately rendered performances, that we watch the friendship between Laney and Maribel develop with no small amount of optimism, even as we sense that the bond will ultimately be shattered by some sort of betrayal. The differences between the two young women are too distinct and each is simply too raw and fragile emotionally.

However, the specter of Laney's father's mental condition recurring in his daughter in addition to her physical malady seems heavy-handed, particularly when coupled with Maribel's imagined condition. It's the sort of parallelism that reads well on the page, but fails to function as elegantly on stage.