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Poetic License

Jack Canfora's taut tale of family deceit receives an exemplary production.

Natalie Kuhn and Geraint Wyn Davies
in Poetic License
(© Carol Rosegg)
In Poetic License, now being presented at 59E59 Theatres, Jack Canfora spins an Albee-esque tale of family deceit tempered with a dose of realism. It's clear from the beginning that something is off with this clan, but what that is in particular remains thankfully elusive for the better part of the one-act's taut 80-minutes.

The lights come up as Katherine (Natalie Kuhn) and her boyfriend, Edmund (Ari Butler), are climbing up the side of her parents' house and shimmying through a window left ajar in the parlor. Katherine reaches the room first and instructs a nervous Edmund on how to follow her.

This lesson gives way to another on the quirks of her parents, Diane (Liza Vann) and John (Geraint Wyn Davies). We learn that no one's home because Katherine purposely gave her mom the wrong day to avoid Diane's "unspeakable charm offensive." She's easier on her father, a well-respected poet, yet her desire for his approval keeps her at a distance.

The surface is pretty everyday family drama, but it's just a mask for a much more twisted core of stolen identity and betrayal. Canfora's dialogue teases as it enthralls, slowly bringing us closer inside the minds of his characters, while director Evan Bergman's ear for dramatic rhythms harnesses the most delicate moments and ratchets them up with the intensity of more pointed confrontations, creating a constant tension that builds even when it's seeming to subside.

The cast is uniformly wonderful, and it's clear they're relishing the words they get to speak. Butler has a subtle slyness that he turns on and off at will, while Kuhn's vulnerability proves to be a powerful anchor for the destruction wrought throughout the play.

Vann exudes the refined cold comfort of a seasoned socialite, but also possesses the capacity for genuine love. Davies arguably has some of the meatiest lines, and it's truly thrilling to watch the way the words come to a slow boil inside him before spewing out and scalding those around.

There aren't any easy resolutions by the end of the play -- rather a deep satisfaction that you have experienced something raw and authentically lived by people who, save for a few unique circumstances, aren't much different than you.