Carla Harting, Black-Eyed Susan, and Matthew Lewis
in Crawl, Fade to White
(© Jim Baldassare)
Carla Harting, Black-Eyed Susan, and Matthew Lewis
in Crawl, Fade to White
(© Jim Baldassare)
Flouting its cinematic title, Sheila Callaghan's latest, Crawl, Fade to White, being presented by 13P at the Ideal Glass Gallery, is packed with indelible images: Dan and Fran, an elderly couple (Matthew Lewis and Black-Eyed Susan) in party hats slowly gyrating to a tired tape of Chubby Checker, or a fragile geek of a college girl, April (Jocelyn Kuritsky), sputtering her way into a fit of trembling so intense that she seems capable of splitting her own atoms.

April has come home with a boyfriend, Nolan (Matthew roi Berger), to steal a family heirloom from her icy beauty of a mother, Louise (Carla Harting). What April finds instead in the curiously stripped abode is a photo of her vanished father, who met Louise -- then a spoiled rich girl of 15 -- as their hands met over "the bloody matted hair" of a dog hit by the taxi in which she was riding.

It's kismet -- except that in flashbacks (in which Shawtane Monroe Bowen plays the animal rescue worker who soon fled their ratty love nest), there's no mistaking the depth of the mismatch. You can take the girl out of finishing school; but it's tougher to eradicate her cravings for the finer things in the life and the accoutrements of beauty. It's actually quite late in the play that we learn the degradation to which her tastes have led Louise.

Meanwhile, Louise, who presents herself as an impenetrable corporate powerhouse, has asked neighbors Dan and Fran to include an item of hers in an upcoming yard sale. (The fact that they've never even spoken in the course of two decades doesn't seem to faze her.) The goods that the couple themselves will be deaccessioning consist of toys strewn about the dirt in their front yard.

And thereby hangs a tale -- real or fabulated, but one which explains Fran's dithery ministrations toward April and her transparent desire to appropriate a substitute child. Dan does not take as readily to Nolan, calling him out as a "jive turkey." While other characters' back stories may be doled out in more intriguing detail, it's Nolan whose arc is the most pronounced: he starts out as an Eddie Haskell-like character about whom we know nothing -- other than that he's majoring in welding and makes robots -- and soon turns into the obverse.

Director Paul Willis not only gets superlative performances from his cast, but he makes intelligent use of the Ideal Glass Factory's raw industrial space, setting Louise's memory fugues up on an iron walkway while set designer Anna Kiraly's adaptable grid of white walls is manipulated below. The small space makes for an experience of startling immediacy.

While the situations that Callaghan limns may verge on the absurd (with all attendant laughs), they're also grounded in the realm of the possible. She has a gift for making the strange believable, and vice versa.