Briar Patch

Playwright Deborah Pryor sojourns to the deep, deep South in this gothic tale of superstition, lust and murder among the inbred, dirt-poor white trash of small-town Virginia. The production features amazingly effective set and lighting designs by Mark Worthington and Emanuel Treeson, respectively, but director Chris Fields fails to bring to life Pryor's flawed but illusion-rich chronicle of the sordid life and times of backwoods maiden Inez (Melissa Nickert). The main problem lies with the lead character.

With:
Cast: Melissa Nickert (Inez), Christopher Curry (Edgar), Steve Hofvendahl (Flowers), Mary Portser (Butcher Lee), Michael DeGood (Druden), Pattie Tierce (Avon).

According to Pryor, Inez has the all-consuming allure to drive her abusive husband, Edgar (Christopher Curry), to new heights of frustrated rage, turn aristocratic attorney Druden (Michael DeGood) into an out-of-control gibbering idiot, and be the ultimate fantasy of poetically trash-talking neighbor Flowers (Steve Hofvendahl). Unfortunately, there is nothing in the unattractive, sexless, surly persona of Nickert’s Inez that would make any of this masculine adoration plausible or believable.

It seems the phenomenally frustrated Inez would do anything to escape the brutish Edgar so she can run away to Richmond with the wealthy and adoring Druden. Her supposedly raging desires lead her to enlist the aid of the local mystic, Butcher Lee (Mary Portser), and to enter into a partnership-in-murder with her husband’s best friend, the worshipping Flowers. But without the tangible, emotional and sensual catalyst of a truly magnetic heroine to move things along, the scenes simply plod on by without continuity or substance.

What does work are the performances of Curry and Hofvendahl. Curry’s slow-witted Edgar exudes a sense of raw, physical power that always seems to be on the verge of exploding into uncontrollable force. But the most rewarding performance comes from Hofvendahl, whose slow-talking, ominously calm Flowers appears to be missing some of the elements of normal human interaction but is eerily in tune with everything happening around him.

Far less successful is DeGood’s Druden, whose undisciplined, out-of-control emoting elicits more caricature than character. Also not faring well are Portser’s awkward portrayal of a small-town clairvoyant and Pattie Tierce’s under-volumed, under-rehearsed outing as the local police chief, Avon.

Worthington’s wonderfully imaginative, atmospheric, modular scenic design deserved a better production.

Briar Patch

Ventura Court Theatre: 85 seats; $20 top

Production: Me Do It Prods. and Christopher Shaw, in association with the Ventura Court Theatre Alliance, present a play in two acts by Deborah Pryor, directed by Chris Fields. Set design, Mark Worthington.

Creative: Costume design, Donna May; lighting design, Emanuel Treeson; sound and original music, Max Kinberg; fight choreographer. Opened Nov. 8, reviewed Nov. 20; runs until Dec. 14. Running time: 2 hours, 10 min.

Cast: Cast: Melissa Nickert (Inez), Christopher Curry (Edgar), Steve Hofvendahl (Flowers), Mary Portser (Butcher Lee), Michael DeGood (Druden), Pattie Tierce (Avon).

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