Seeing Feral Woman’s production of “In Threes” is like being in a Dali desert landscape for two hours, with eccentric characters stepping in and out and the line between the living and the dead blurring like a mirage.
Like one of Dali’s paintings, the play is surreal and sometimes confusing, yet beautiful and intriguing thanks to excellent performances, compelling subject matter, an appealing scenic desert design by Maura Dwyer, and appropriately catchy and off-kilter original music by Rjyan Kidwell.
Adapted and directed by Ren Pepitone, “In Threes” is an interpretation of Joy Williams’ 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist novel, “The Quick and the Dead.” While the publisher’s description of the novel describes “life-and-death adventures of three misfit teenagers in the American desert” who are “an unlikely circle of friends,” Pepitone’s “In Threes” is more a meandering by three main characters who aren’t particularly connected.
Each of the characters–Alice (Dana Woodson), Corvus (Sarah Lamar) and Annabel (Madison Coan)–seems to be in her own world, where they interface with a creepy pianist, a stroke survivor with a monkey in his head, a widower haunted by his wife’s ghost and a neighbor with anger issues and a penchant for brushing little girls’ hair.
It is clear that Pepitone—a rock star Baltimore playwright who co-penned Annex Theater’s inspired “King of Howard Street” last year—has great affection for “The Quick and the Dead.” Yet, “In Threes” is both trying to do too much, and not doing enough to tell the life-and-death adventures of three misfit teens, all motherless.
The play is chock full of dialogue, including multiple long monologues. But it’s hard to follow and understand the connection of the words to the characters that inhabit the surreal world, where death and the afterlife prod at the living.
Pepitone is a formidable theater-maker. Adapting a novel with so many layers is a herculean feat, as is also leading the direction of the premiere of that work. “In Threes” does have some compelling moments. An especially effective scene at the end of the play has the ensemble and audience members in the small Mercury Theater, darkened for the scene, all holding lit candles together while a character discusses the impact of candlelight vigils to connect people. The rest of the play would benefit from making more connections between characters, or with the themes of death and the intersection of the living and the dead.
“In Threes” has a cast stacked with powerhouse actors who make the absolute most of their eccentric characters. Lamar as not-quite-there Corvus is magical and almost disembodied, especially in the gorgeous contemporary dance segments. Jacob Zabawa makes use of his entire being, from toes to tongue, to inhabit a shoe-salesman stroke victim with a slurred drawl and limp, predatory pianist with sex panther strides and stares, and an oblivious single mom infatuated with a creeper potential partner.
Coan as a rich, recently motherless Annabel has stage presence that demands attention. She masterfully expresses Annabel’s thin-ice façade of normalcy, which shatters mightily toward the end of the play. Another magnet is Katharine Vary, who deliciously and devilishly harasses her closeted husband as the deceased Ginger, transforms seamlessly into a sage nursing home resident, and thoughtfully expresses the nuances of a precocious 8-year-old wary of her mom’s new boyfriend.
Feral Woman commendably presents this new work, which is its second fully staged production. While not a perfect show, “In Threes” still has moments of brilliance supported by a gifted cast. It will be exciting to see what this new theater company presents next.
“In Threes” by Feral Woman runs through Aug. 12 at Mercury Theater at 1823 N. Charles St., in Baltimore. For tickets and more information, visit brownpapertickets.com/event/3562800.