NY Theater Review Susan Hasho
Walk into the Rattlestick Theatre for the play Pitbulls and the set looms. It is perfect—it speaks eloquently of place and circumstance.
The play by, Keith Josef Adkins, starts with a tragic/comic scene between a young man Dipper and Virgil the sheriff. We then meet Dipper’s mother Mary. The woman who lives in the woods in a trailer reveals herself slowly. Mary is a mother and a bootlegger. The sheriff has spoken of her as a sexual live wire, but the woman we meet is hugely protective of her son and rooted in her independence. Mary has a suitor—all-around handyman and minister, Wayne, who we soon learn has a wife.
We are introduced to people bred on conflict and trouble but these are pretty standard types in theater nowadays. The evening is accompanied by the sound of dogs barking. They are to be the salvation of the town, put it on the map. And we search for the killer of a pit bull. There’s a lot of talk about pit bulls but somehow they don’t add up to much emotional mileage—just something to argue about off the real subject of the play which is screwed up love relationships—between mother and son, ex-lovers, familiar lovers and husband and wife. The story seems predictable, but that just serves to keep your guard down long enough to allow the play to get under your skin.
What distinguishes this play is the slow evolution of the character of Mary and the cleverly understated performance of Yvette Ganier. Virgil stalks her, Wayne courts her and her son is getting weirder and evades her grasp. And yet she insists on meditating in the woods. She will blow up a car over the loss of a favorite pet, but she won’t be blackmailed for the freedom of her son. The last scene of the play is only emotionally credible because the playwright has built several layers of complexity into the character of Mary. You go girl, don’t be a victim and don’t be a harridan. She is a character that has choices in a narrow poverty that would seem to offer none and that is what defines the interesting singularity of this play.
As directed by Leah C. Gardiner, the cast slowly escalates the emotional heat in a tight ensemble. Maurice Williams (Dipper) is a sweet but relentless rebel; Billy Eugene Jones (Virgil) is powerful and charming in equal measure; Nathan Hinton (Wayne) achieves a complicated sweetness; and Donna Duplantier (Rhonda) is southern peckishness to a T. It would be remiss not to mention the brilliant set design of Andrew Boyce.
Pitbulls plays Sunday and Monday at 7pm and Thursday-Saturday at 8pm at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, west of Seventh Avenue South. Tickets are $21; premium tickets are $30; student tickets are $5; and theater artist and under-30 tickets are $10. Tickets and season memberships may be purchased by visiting www.rattlestick.org or by phoning OvationTix at 866-811-4111.
Photos: Monica Simoes