Ghosts in the Cottonwoods
Adam Rapp's early play about an unusual family reunion is a furious assault on the senses.
As in other Rapp works, there is a mother-son relationship with questionable boundaries and plenty of high-octane encounters in confined quarters. The tension starts as soon as the play begins, as widow Bean Scully (Sarah Lemp) tends to the welts on the naked body of her teenage son Pointer (Nick Lawson) in their shabby boondocks home, with no plumbing and only random recycled bits of furniture. While an unrelenting storm rages outside, they wait on older son Jeff (James Kautz), who's escaped after six years in prison.
Instead, Newt (William Apps), a dangerous mystery man with a gunshot wound, appears, as does Shirley (Mandy Nicole Moore), Pointer's cute-as-a-button gal pal. Both have surprises, but neither can best Jeff's entrance -- through the floorboards. And once he is joined later by a fellow inmate (Matthew Pilieci), the homecoming turns into anything but the happy reunion Bean expected.
Rapp, who once again directs his own work, couldn't have asked for better collaborators than the spunky Amoralists troupe. At times, the speeding-bullet pace of the dialogue, coupled with the characters' Appalachian-sounding dialects, is dizzying, but they toss themselves into the playwright's ferocious environs with reckless abandon and careful assuredness.
Although Rapp's writing method at the time appeared to involve throwing as many unhinged characters, symbols and ideas into the mix as 90 minutes will allow, a raw, poetically beautiful quality emerges. Holes, both in the earth and within the characters, play a prominent part, as do the trees that grow from them. Likewise, this admirable early effort effectively shows the seeds from which Rapp's audacious career sprung.