Fresh Ink Theatre Delivers Rewards With ‘Outlaw Jean’ (4 Stars)
by India Pearl
‘Outlaw Jean’ Written by MJ Kaufman; Directed by Caitlin Lowans; Produced by Fresh Ink Theatre at the Factory Theatre. 791 Tremont St., Boston through Nov. 16th
There are many positive things to say about Fresh Ink Theatre, and their mission to help dry the pages where the writing is still wet and ready to be worked out. This Fall’s ‘Outlaw Jean’ is a prime example of how the early processes of getting a play on its feet through re-writes and workshopping, can later develop into something wonderfully powerful. (Let alone how much more time the actors get to love up the dialogue and melt into their characters!)
‘Outlaw Jean’ starts out with a dark yet humorous plot, with the young rough-and-tumble Jean seeking help from another Outlaw friend to hide some bodies leftover from a gas station heist. We quickly forget about the bodies, when Jean reveals she must return home to ask for a blessing from her bible-thumping mother. Jean’s friend Monkey happily obliges to hide the bodies in the backroom of her store, and the two take off with confidence of no consequences.
Jean is an interesting anti-heroine of sorts, and Caroline Rose Markham did the part justice. Her intensity was ever-present, and you have to watch closely for a flicker of the eyes to tell you what may be behind her words. During her many confrontations she makes small movement choices such as smoothing her hair back, reminiscent of an early Holly Hunter. Her mousy second-in-command Monkey, played by the sincere, yet adorable Lydia Barnett-Mulligan, is the perfect extinguisher to Jean’s ever-flaming temper. While their relationship seems to go beyond friendship, it only adds to the heart-warming fact that the two might as well be a child-like Bonnie and Clyde.
Mama Mystery, played by the powerful Gillian Mackay-Smith, is a sad shadow of a woman. She is seemingly driven crazy by years worth of morbid reflection, by poverty, and the fact that she and the town Friar are the only adults left for enough miles that her and her two younger daughters have taken to eating rattlesnakes for dinner. Friar Owl (Ron Lacey) is believably saint-like in his persistence to stay in a ghost town, perhaps because God told him to, and his love interest in Mama is endearing. He warns her of a dream he had of a visiting angel disguised as a beggar, coming to kill Mama. She has been praying for redemption in between episodes of Jerry Springer and melancholy. Ms. Mackay-Smith leads us to believe she may also love the Friar, but is too ashamed of her sins to allow herself to be happy.
The younger daughters, Gemini (Chelsea Schmidt) and Christian (Melody Martin) add a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sort of mood, though they are much smarter and impeccably cast. Jean claimed she had forgotten she had sisters, and while it’s unclear if that was true or she simply decided to never mention them to Monkey, it is apparent they are indeed from the same gene pool. Christian wants to follow the Good Book, more likely to please her very lonely mother, while Gemini wants to follow in her sister’s footsteps, more likely out of pure boredom. It is claimed that they are children, but whether we are supposed to suspend our disbelief that they are children, or if Mama and the girls are in denial that they have grown up since the town was abandoned, could be up for debate.
The Outlaws meet the girls first, both parties deciding if they are enemies or kin. A deal is made that Gemini will help Jean to gain their mother’s blessing, if she takes Gemini with her away from the town to become another Outlaw. It seems simple enough, and without revealing the rest of the plot, the plan is comically executed. We later try to guess if Outlaw Jean is a cold-blooded killer, or perhaps an amped-up prodigal daughter.
Once all the characters were introduced and the story really took off, it was easy to see that the accents were well-versed and the relationships were well-established. Not only were the ladies making a fellow Boston actress/reviewer proud to see such a strong female cast, but Mr. Lacey really held his own next to them. MJ Kaufman, and previous playwriting fellow of the Huntington, truly knows how to write for women. Of course it’s worth mentioning that Caitlin Lowans was a choice director to lead those women.
While it takes a few minutes to realize that none of these characters are what we would call, “normal” it is safe to say that the themes and emotions are holding hands with a real story line. Theater-goers who don’t take kindly to “avant-garde” should not be shy about attending, as it isn’t hard to follow along and take a liking to the characters. There is a fluidity to the piece, and Kaufman’s goal of a surprise ending is certainly reached. Without having to resort to the easily written tragedy, there were still some tears from a few audience members. With a $20 ticket fee and pay-what-you-can matinees, it’s not a very high price to pay for a quality performance. All in all, very well worth the trip downtown to see some local and “freshly-inked” theater. For further info go to: http://www.freshinktheatre.com/outlaw-jean.html