Temporary Help

(Women's Project Theater; 199 seats; $39.50)

A Revelation Theater presentation, in association with Eileen T'Kaye, of a play in two acts by David Wiltse. Directed by Leslie L. Smith.

Karl Streber - Robert Cuccioli
Faye Streber - Margaret Colin
Ron Stucker - William Prael
Vincent Castelnuovo-Tedesco - Chad Allen

By MARILYN STASIO Although it's still wet behind the ears, a just-hatched company called Revelation Theater already knows what it wants to be when it grows up -- Steppenwolf. The company style is blunt and physical; the psychosexual content of its first production is nasty and brutish; and even though a theater had to be borrowed to launch the inaugural season, the new troupe already shows the discipline and focus of ensemble players. Once Revelation settles into its own 154-seat midtown theater, projected to open in January, the plan is to do three more new plays (by Rob Nash, Keith Reddin and Del Shores) with regional roots outside New York. This could be interesting.David Wiltse, a playwright who has built a reputation as a suspense novelist whose specialty is mad-dog serial killers, snatched his plot for this Midwestern Gothic thriller from the true-crime exploits of a Missouri farm couple convicted in 1990 of murdering their hired hands. Wiltse has shifted the locale from deepest Missouri to deepest Nebraska (in Troy Hourie's generic farmhouse setting, the grim nature of this rural hell is nicely summed up by a brown plaid sofa) and supplied the couple with a simple motive for their bizarre behavior: They're nuts.

Karl Streber (Robert Cuccioli) has devised an ingenious way of profiting from the fast turnover of his workforce; but the real reason he befriends and betrays these lonely, rootless men is that he's a brutal sadist who gets his sexual kicks that way. And while his wife, Faye (Margaret Colin), may kid herself that she's a helpless pawn in thrall to her abusive husband, the truth is, she gets her jollies the same way. This sicko pair might still be indulging their peculiar taste in foreplay if the fates didn't deliver young drifter Vincent (Chad Allen) into their hands.

In a broad hint dropped by the local sheriff (pity William Prael in this strictly functional role), this love-starved but unstable young man may well be the homicidal hired hand known to be prowling this godforsaken farm country, robbing and murdering the ranch owners who give him a job.

Once Karl starts sniffing around Vincent, and Vincent starts nuzzling up to Faye, the plot mechanics allow for any two of these volatile characters to team up for sex and stuff, switch partners at will and then turn on the odd one out. But who is predator and who is prey? Like three-way sex and close votes in Congress, the tension of these switchback relationships comes from holding out.

A more diabolical director might have milked the situation to keep us guessing about who is manipulating whom, but only Colin fully explores the ambiguity of her victim role. Her sexually primed Faye sways from one man to the other (drawing the sheriff into her orbit as well), seducing them with her wiles as well as her body. Her cunning performance acknowledges Faye's capacity for cruelty but withholds on the specifics to tease us with the possibilities.

While giving Colin room to do her seductive dance, Smith's direction takes a more visceral approach with the manly interplay between the two men. There's little ambiguity but plenty of sexual tension in the half-naked, full-body wrestling matches that has the pair rolling around on the floor at the drop of a hat. To be fair, Wiltse does not offer his male characters the option of subtlety.

Karl is crazy, through and through, and Cuccioli's wild eyes and maniacal grin are just the ticket for his muscular portrayal of this violent brute. Although physically slighter than the beefy Cuccioli, Allen's slender, impressively chiseled Vincent is even scarier. The kid is equal parts pathos and pathology, and Allen gives him an edgy anxiety that makes you want to hug him before you shoot him.

Set, Troy Hourie; costumes, Mattie Ullrich; lighting, Chris Dallos; sound, David A. Arnold; production stage manager, Jana Llynn. Artistic director, Leslie L. Smith. 
Opened Nov. 17, 2002. Reviewed Nov. 21. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

2002 Reed Business Information    2002 Variety, Inc.


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