TV familiar Kathryn Erbe (of “Law and Order: Criminal Intent”) lends wattage to the preem of Daniel Talbott’s “Yosemite,” but the real star of this Redneck Gothic melodrama is set designer Raul Abrego. Working under the space confinements of Rattlestick’s table-top stage, the resourceful designer has created a realistic clearing in a deep wood high in the snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountain range, where three teenagers have come to dig a grave. Talbott achieves pretty much the same level of realism in his dialogue. But with no action to cut the verbiage, sitting through this one is like watching snow melt.
Seth Numrich, who made a convincing farm boy in “War Horse,” does right by Jake, another young misfit struggling to find his way out of a hostile environment. Along with his younger siblings, Ruby (Libby Woodbridge) and Jer (Noah Galvin), Jake has been sent into these snowy woods to dispose of their eight-month-old baby brother, Nathan, whose black plastic-wrapped corpse Ruby is clutching to her chest.
During the first half of the play, Jer hunches over in near-silent misery as Jake chops through the rocky, half-frozen ground and blisters the air with crude if incoherent rage, while Ruby keeps urging him to dig the grave deeper. “So animals can’t smell him. So they don’t dig him up.”
The kids are inadequately dressed in hand-me-down clothes (chosen with a nice eye for detail by costumer Tristan Raines) and they look half-starved, so a lot of their rambling conversation has to do with food. But as sibling tensions escalate (in well-calibrated stages, under Pedro Pascal’s steady helming), grim revelations spill out about the sorry-ass lives these trailer-trash kids live. (And, not incidentally, how baby Nathan came to die.)
Numrich, an earnest and appealing young actor who should never be out of work, makes especially convincing work of articulating Jake’s conflicted feelings about being trapped in his thankless role of the only responsible member of his seriously dysfunctional family.
By its midpoint, the eventless play has stopped dead in its tracks and the characters are just spinning their wheels. So there’s a palpable sense of relief when the kids’ slatternly mother Julie (Kathryn Erbe, making a fragile, almost otherworldly impression) enters the clearing carrying a rifle and looking as if she’s seriously off her meds.
Erbe brings an ethereal quality to Julie’s suicidally depressed persona that makes her attractive, in a spooky kind of way. But the character is too catatonic to play the role of catalyst and kick-start this stalled play into some kind of action. And in the end her main contribution is to show us exactly why her miserable kids are so depressed.