Noemi Del Rio and Joselin Reyes in
Knives and Other Sharp Objects
(© Ari Mintz)
Noemi Del Rio and Joselin Reyes in
Knives and Other Sharp Objects
(© Ari Mintz)
In the opening scene of Raúl Castillo's Knives and Other Sharp Objects, being presented by the LAByrinth Theatre Company at the Public Theater, 14-year-old Beatrice (Noemi del Rio) is about as annoying an adolescent as you could ever encounter. The screed she directs at her elder sister Alex (an emotionally charged Joselin Reyes) -- "I'm so bored," repeated over and over, till the words run together in a furious chant -- is not just the initial proof that Castillo has a working knowledge of teenagers and sibling relationships, but that boredom is the last thing we need fear from this well-acted developmental production under the direction of Felix Solis.

The girls are traveling by bus from their home near the Mexican border to stay with rich relatives in Austin, at their mother's behest. Their father is in the hospital, and Beatrice has been getting in fights with tough girls in school. Everyone -- perhaps the motherly Alex most of all -- hopes that a less stressful environment will keep Beatrice on the path to a better education and brighter future.

But familial bailouts often come at a cost, as any Dickens novel will attest. The Austin branch -- and uptight Anglo matriarch Tia Lydia (Candy Buckley) in particular -- is not exactly subtle in underscoring the extent of their largesse. "We're so rich we even have cousins who want to come stay with us," brags daughter Lucy (Ana Nogueira), a self-styled junior sophisticate who makes the cholas back home look like choirgirls.

Meanwhile, the older Loren (Amanda Perez, possessing a glamorous, google-eyed innocence guaranteed to elicit laughs) is an airhead in the Paris Hilton mode, but way sweeter. She's engaged in what seems a harmless flirtation with a National Guardsman whose deployment designs on her are a bit more nefarious. And Alex diverts her attention from Beatrice long enough to help out Manuel (Michael Ray Escamilla), a hapless guy on the lam whom they met on the bus.

It takes the whole play to get the full story. Castillo teases it out in short, punchy scenes, the language rich with Latino rhythms. Especially masterful is a split-stage scene in which the haughty Lydia -- her anger pathologically displaced -- lectures delinquent Lucy on the finer points of how to arrange silverware, as Alex must dress down Beatrice in the kitchen as they prepare dinner for their grudging hosts.

But even as plenty of intriguing questions remain, the one certainty is that Castillo knows how to create catchy dialogue and build dramatic momentum.