By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
Carly Elizabeth Preston probes the depths of desperation as Hester Swane in "The Bog of Cats" at Theatre ZUZI.
It takes a village to raise a monster, too. And you can bet no villager is going to step forward to take the credit. Certainly not in Ireland's rural Bog of Cats where the witchy Catwoman (Martie van der Voort) slurps her milk from a bowl.
Yes, we are speaking of the new and ambitious Something Something Theatre Company with its production “The Bog of Cats” by Marina Carr, in which the director Joan O'Dwyer has drawn a deeply profound performance from Carley Elizabeth Preston as the terminally troubled Hester Swane.
Preston has been a successful Tucson actor for several years, playing both comedic and serious roles. But her performance here is something beyond all that, a far more complex and artistically meaningful accomplishment.
Every Carly Preston fan will want to see this show, so years from now they can claim to have been there when she created such a simultaneously horrifying and sympathetic character.
O'Dwyer takes pride in the playwright's choice of loosely basing this work on the tragic Greek myth of Media, by making the role of Hester a symbol of suppressed female energy in a rigid society of traditional values. The harder Hester tries to justify her own defiant life choices, the more certain becomes her demise.
A sprawling cast of 12 (the child role of Josie is double-cast) creates some confusing scenes in Act One on the expansive Zuzi Theater stage steeped in shadows. It takes awhile to get all the main personalities established and their conflicted demands defined.
But then in the second act each of the players has at least one showcase scene, their emotions adding one by one to the stack of hurdles blocking Hester's path to resolution. As her frustration builds, so does the sour nature of this imploding little community that can't help feeding on itself.
Basically, we have Carthage Kilbride (Nowell Kral), the young father of Hester's beloved seven-year-old child Josie (played by Sierra Ryan-Langan and Melanie Sparrold), all set to marry the more well-to-do and lovely Caroline Cassidy (Jasmine Roth).
Never mind that Carthage and Hester (who is about 10 years older than Carthage), have already been living together for a decade without benefit of marriage. Although Josie their child has been happily living with them, Carthage now wants Josie to leave her mother. Josie must come live with him and Caroline once they are properly married.
Josie is upset by this, and rightfully so. Meanwhile, Caroline's father Xavier (Roger Owen) has his own reasons for being bothered by Josie continuing to live with Hester.
Adding their voices are Monica Murray (O'Dwyer), as a kind of one-person Greek chorus sympathetic to Hester's plight, and Carthhage's eccentric mother Mrs. Kilbride (India Osborne), who provides the play's comic relief.
Paul Hammack gets his measure of laughs as the tipsy priest Father Willow. Vaughn Sherman has a small but pivotal role as the young Ghost of Joseph Swane, who was Hester's brother.
It takes all of Act One to get the main personalities established and their conflicted demands defined. Having so many inexperienced actors on stage does turn many of the scenes into a bit of a muddle.
But this also gives Preston time to build her own fated momentum, which we watch helplessly from the sidelines. Imagine a freight train bearing down on a cluster of cows innocently nibbling grass between the railroad ties.
“The Bog of Cats” continues through Nov. 22, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, at Theatre ZUZI! in the Historic Y, 738 N. Fifth Ave. Tickets are $22, with discounts available. For details and reservations, www.somethingsomethingtheatre.com