Adventurous New Jersey company Playwrights Theater continues its mission to discover and expose new plays with season finale “The Song of Grendelyn.” Russell Davis is a writer with rich imagination and a gift for creating flavorful dialogue, and his new play is dominated by the salty bite of his pivotal character, a bitterly weathered rock star attempting to come to terms with old demons.
As written, and as played by Carol Todd with unsympathetic venom, the role of Melinda Avery is a one-dimensional loser and a bitch of the first order. She not only has seduced her best friend’s husband but unwittingly, it was her tour bus that ultimately struck him down. The rebellious daughter of a country minister who became a punk rock superstar, Melinda returns to her hometown for a concert, taking refuge in the home of former childhood friend and subsequent romantic rival Hannah (Dana Benningfield).
A one-time banjo-playing folk singer and now a successful author of children’s books, Hannah writes amusing parables about rabbits, squirrels and villainous alligators. She is a single mom and widow.
Lecturing at a book signing in a nearby town, the character appears at a downstage lectern in a series of reflective monologues that, while static, provide a certain revealing and binding element to the narrative. The pivotal confrontation of the drama, however, concerns the testy duel between Melinda and Hannah’s precociously wise 11-year-old daughter Siggy (Rebecca Ellis), a feisty, no-nonsense young lady who challenges the rock diva’s unwelcome visitation.
Siggy uses her mother’s fairy- tale texts as a healing metaphor for the rebellious Melinda, who eventually succumbs to the child’s storybook wisdom.
Outfitted in Grace Slick black leather, tattoos and zippered boots, raven haired Todd creates the image of a familiar monster with steely authority in a sharply stylized, raw performance. The well-scrubbed innocence of young Ellis provides ideal and freshly minted balance, while Benningfield adds a sturdy and settling contrast.
Despite some numbing repetition, author Davis has fashioned a tough-minded play, staged by Playwrights Theater artistic director John Pietrowski with an even-handed thrust that captures its sinister edge. The bland yet functional set design of a Midwestern country homestead by Richard Turick is enhanced by Jeff Greenberg’s crisp lighting design.