Reviewed by Jerry Kraft
Seattle playwright Stephanie Timm's "Crumbs Are Also Bread" is a darkly comic return to that rural America where a faint scent of perversion mingles with an inchoate air of violence, mundane and familiar family life with dark secrets that seem to rise from the soil like the undead, where sexuality is unsettled, voracious, and inextricably linked to power. There is certainly something of the lethal peculiarity of "Twin Peaks," but also something of the essentially American nature of "Buried Child."
The play is ambitiously written, not only in its narrative content, but also in the sometimes beautifully poetic language, the use of overtly metaphoric characters (a self-blinded prophet straight out of Greek tragedy, for example) and its free transitioning between comic and frightening relationships. The work is so packed with ideas and intentions that it tends to trip over itself, and in spite of excellent acting from the entire cast of nine, and John Langs' solid direction, it ends up somehow less than the sum of its parts.
There are several commendable performances. Elise Hunt brings disconcerting presence to a teenager lusting for passion and experience. The wonderful Alexandra Tavares plays a schoolteacher who longs for her dead husband, and finds a kind of solace in a crippled (shades of Oedipus) young boy student. She also portrays a woman whose cat is poisoned by a neighbor (Kelly Kitchens), with whom she will later tangle in a rather passionate lesbian embrace. Lathrop Walker gamely attempts the stranger who comes to town, but the part is under-developed. Michael Place plays not only the seduced student, but also an ice-fisherman and, in one of the funnier scenes to appear in Seattle lately, a flop-eared dog sniffing his way to Tavares' personal attractions. The kinky humor is continued by Basil Harris as a (barely) closeted gay man who entertains at home in a bustier, and Mikano Fukaya as a dead cat. True. A dead cat.
The physical production is incredible. Jennifer Zeyl is an extraordinary set designer, and here she has created a simultaneously indoor and outdoor locale that is icy, vaguely dangerous, bloodless and necrotic, accented by trees painted gray and hung upside down, as if to become subterranean roots. A chandelier hanging center stage suggests an atmosphere of macabre festivity, albeit at some earlier time, and now clearly decayed. Fine lighting, good costumes and a suggestive sound design complete this richly designed production.
"Crumbs Are Also Bread" is certainly not a complete success, but it is far from a failure, either. Stephanie Timm is talented and refreshingly confident about making unexpected and provocative things happen on stage. Washington Ensemble Theatre is the one company in Seattle where you can always expect material that's pushing the boundaries of the expected, and always performed by talented and fully committed actors. Even this less than fully realized play was more satisfying than scores of other conventional shows, done by competent companies, that strive only to be correct. Those shows are the crumbs that leave an audience still hungry.