Until now, it's been mostly guy stuff by playwrights like Sam Shepard, Tracy Letts, Neil LaBute and Adam Rapp - kick-ass, provocative and highly theatrical plays designed to shake you up. With David's Redhaired Death now playing in its Cleveland space, the Bang and the Clatter Theatre Company makes a sharp turn toward the poetic, indwelling world of women, a world of image and insight. Director Sean McConaha strips away the props and razzle-dazzle so that two young actresses can explore love and loss unencumbered by special effects.
It's a stark production, an act of trust in the material that, in this case, goes too far. Playwright Sherry Kramer writes like Paula Vogel - long, self-indulgent, poetic monologues that need theatrical trappings to keep them moving. Kramer is, if anything, a more astute organizer of her material. The play opens with Faye Hargate as Jean explaining the title, telling us everything we need to know about the weight of death on our ability to form and sustain relationships.
Having laid out her themes in the opening of the piece, Kramer proceeds, much like minimalist composer Philip Glass, to play them with fugue-like repetition. Redhaired Jean is setting off on a road trip to meet her lover Marilyn, the magical, mythical redhead played by Katelyn R. Cornelius. Jean is traveling forward and backward in time, running up and down the scale of memory, circling toward the midnight phone call that brings the news of her brother's death - the redhaired death that happens each time she is in Marilyn's arms.
Hargate makes an earnest, honest Jean; Cornelius's Marilyn is a voluptuous romantic contrast. Still, David fails to achieve its full impact because it deals in generalities, waves of feeling like music meant to sweep us away, and avoids the specifics of character and action at the heart of all good theater. What it does give us, when it is not mourning the loss of the unknown brother, is a playful glimpse into the world of girlfriend love. There's a bed center stage, and the two girls spend plenty of time either in it or circling around it. But this isn't necessarily about the L word. The two girls dream of being friends for life, pushing each other's prams and playing auntie to each other's children. But for now, they share a special redhaired insight. "No one could look at us," Jean explains, "the way we looked at each other."
Meanwhile, at BNC's new Akron location (at 29 N. Main Street), Sean Derry and Stephen Skiles give the performance of a lifetime in Neil LaBute's In a Dark Dark House. LaBute is known for his theatrical tricks, the way that he sets up the audience emotionally and then delivers a cynical sucker punch. The punch is still there, but in House, the characters earn their reversals and the impact is an electrifying modern-day catharsis. Young Erika Rylow also delivers a fine performance, although the play belongs, like all LaBute's work, to the men.
In a Dark Dark House plays through December 20. The box-office number is the same for both theaters.
David's Redhaired Death, Through January 3, BNC Sometimes in the Silence Theater, 224 Euclid Ave., 330.606.5317