Paul Sparks and Marylouise Burke in American Sligo
(© Sandra Coudert)
Paul Sparks and Marylouise Burke in American Sligo
(© Sandra Coudert)
Adam Rapp takes a twisted look at a dysfunctional family in his bizarrely entertaining dark comedy American Sligo, currently making its world premiere at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and featuring a terrific ensemble cast headed up by Marylouise Burke, Paul Sparks, and Guy Boyd.

As the play begins, Aunt Bobbie (Burke) is chattering nonstop while bringing out food to celebrate the impending retirement of 63-year-old wrestler Art "Crazy Train" Sligo (Boyd). His two sons, the sullen Kyle (Michael Chernus) and delinquent Victor (Sparks) -- who arrives late -- are in attendance. Joining them is nervous teenager Bobby Bibby (Matthew Stadelmann), a huge fan of Crazy Train, who has won a sweepstakes to have dinner with his hero prior to the wrestler's final match.

The play is short on plot, but rich in character. The eccentricities of each person in the show -- which also includes Lucy (Emily Cass McDonnell) and Cammie (Megan Mostyn-Brown), the girlfriends of Victor and Kyle, respectively -- come to the fore. As they interact, tensions, resentments, and sometimes out-and-out violence erupt with both hilarious and disturbing results.

Burke, who has excelled in such plays as Fuddy Meers and Kimberly Akimbo, has turned in yet another brilliantly realized oddball creation. Her offbeat line delivery is matched by her superb comic timing. Even when she isn't speaking -- such as in a 90-second enforced silence that Crazy Train imposes at the dinner table -- her facial expressions and body movements provoke peals of laughter. The actress also well handles Aunt Bobbie's more serious moments, and a speech she delivers reflecting on Victor's childhood is poignant and moving.

Sparks, a frequent player in Rapp's demented dramas, radiates a quiet menace that astronomically increases the dramatic tension whenever he's onstage. As he calmly describes how he intends to murder his brother, he is creepily convincing. When he explodes with anger, it's a frightening sight. Yet, Sparks also offers glimpses into Victor's wounded soul, inspiring sympathy, even if you still wouldn't want to be left alone in a room with him.

Boyd deserves kudos for just putting on his costume (designed by Daphne Javitch). The red and black wrestling outfit he sports -- along with a black mullet wig -- shows off his large figure in the most unflattering way; yet, he still manages to look somewhat dignified. Moreover, he is the (mostly) calm center around which the craziness of his household revolves.

Chernus wears Kyle's resentments like an old coat, and expertly conveys his thoughts in his nonverbal reactions to others. Stadelmann spends most of the evening looking like a deer caught in the headlights. His expressions are comically cartoonish, while still being grounded in an off-kilter reality.

The same can be said of Mostyn-Brown, although it's a very understandable fear of Victor that motivates Cammie's behavior. McDonnell's Lucy is perhaps the sanest character in the play, although her sweet-natured monologue explaining and rationalizing Victor's criminal behavior suggests that her judgment is rather flawed.

Rapp's vibrantly idiosyncratic language gives his actors a lot to work with, and his taut yet playful direction brings out both the humor and pathos of his script. The play's melodramatic finale pushes the action a little too far over the edge, but the production is still a powerfully satiric look at the dark underbelly of America.