Nobody likes to admit it, but it’s a lot harder for girls to leave home than for boys, especially when “home” means some economically depressed place like Middletown, U.S.A., as the backwater in Jessica Goldberg’s “Stuck” is identified. Scribe presents a sympathetic view of two girlfriends who make desperate choices to escape their dysfunctional families and dead-end lives. But the under-populated plot is little more than a rough sketch, and the wasteland setting is too vaguely generic to give us a true sense of how badly the odds are stacked against these unlucky young women.
An excellent opening scene gives us a good idea of the scribe’s ambitious intentions. It’s a party night in the mid-1990s and friends Lula (Athena Masci) and Margaritah (Kate MacCluggage) are sitting all alone and getting wasted in the remains of a car someone dumped at the Indian burial ground.
A former prom queen who made the mistake of marrying a jerk right out of high school, Margaritah has brought her infant daughter along in her carrier. Although Ritah pays little attention to Olive, she’s got big plans for her: “I’m gonna raise her to be super-cool and she’ll get the fuck out of here.” MacCluggage pours heart and soul into that line and puts us solidly into Ritah’s cheering section.
Lula could have gone to college, but she got trapped working in a video store to support her Mom (the scary-good Kate Kearney-Patch), a clinically depressed alcoholic who no longer leaves the house. “I’m so mean, I’ll probably end up just like her, only I’ll have no one to take care of me,” Lula says, looking into the bleak future for most fatherless girls from small towns who don’t get married.
Lula has the intelligence to define the limitations of their lives (“too much beer, not enough to do, drives you insane”), and Masci has the dramatic intensity to make us worry about what that might mean.
Goldberg (a Susan Smith Blackburn winner for “Refuge”) concocts two damaging relationships for Lula and Ritah to push them over the edge. But Jorge (Anthony Alessandro) and Charlie (Steven Hauck), the bad boys who spell bad news for the girls, don’t do anything wicked enough to drive the action into the dramatic dark side.
Even if they did, it wouldn’t solve the play’s real problem, which is the playwright’s pretense that all small towns are the same, and her disinclination to be specific about the environment she’s writing about.
To be fair, the ramshackle set and ill-defined scene settings do little to animate the stultifying world slowly closing in on Lula and Ritah. But even in a more life-giving staging, “Middletown, U.S.A.” would still be too undefined to convey the soul-crushing banality of a burg that drains the life out of its children by denying them a good education, decent work, a nice place to live, and a few hot spots to have fun on a Saturday night.